V. ANBALAGAN, ASSISTANT NEWS EDITOR
1 July 2014
There is an attempt to rewrite the Federal Constitution by using “the back door” to introduce hudud but that plan will fail as it is illegal, says former Bar Council chairman Datuk Ambiga Sreenivasan.
The remark was in reference to a move to table a private member’s bill in Parliament that will allow Kelantan to enforce its Shariah penal code in the PAS-controlled state.
The east coast state has been governed by the Islamist party PAS since 1990.
If passed by a simple majority vote, the bill will give effect to the Kelantan Shariah Criminal Code Enactment II of 1993.
The bill, likely to be tabled in the coming session, seeks power from Parliament for Kelantan to make laws in respect of criminal matters which come under federal jurisdiction.
Ambiga said this is where the nation missed the stature of senior lawyer Karpal Singh who persistently argued that Malaysia was a secular state and the Islamic penal code could not be implemented.
“We all miss Karpal Singh because he was a defender of our Federal Constitution,” said Ambiga, who paid tribute to the senior lawyer and parliamentarian.
The Gandhi Memorial Trust of Malaysia last evening posthumously bestowed Karpal with the public service award in a form of a pewter-made tiger, in honour of the man who was dubbed the Tiger of Jelutong.
Ambiga said Karpal had asked Putrajaya to refer to the Federal Court for a legal opinion whether Malaysia was a secular or Islamic state when there emerged opposing views.
“We need his voice today, to defend this constitution of ours that we have all accepted for more than 50 years as ‘secular’.
“Now we hear arguments that suggest that our constitution is not secular. This in my view is an attempt to rewrite our constitution through the back door,” she added.
Ambiga said in 1988, a five-man bench of the then Supreme Court in the case of Che Omar Che Soh v Public Prosecutor held that the law in Malaysia was secular.
She said the then Lord President Tun Salleh Abas who wrote the judgment had also said, “We have to set aside our personal feelings because the law in this country is secular.”
Four of the judges were Muslims while the three lawyers who represented the appellant were non-Muslims.
Ambiga also told The Malayisan Insider that hudud could not be implemented even with a constitutional amendment as that would go against the basic structure.
She said Article 4 stated that the Constitution is the supreme law of the Federation and any inconsistent law passed after Merdeka Day will be declared illegal.
Former Court of Appeal judge Datuk Mahadev Shanker said Karpal was the embodiment of the philosophy and principles of Mahatma Gandhi, a lawyer and freedom fighter.
“Like Gandhi, Karpal lived a simple life but his thoughts were lofty,” Shanker said, adding that Karpal was also relentless in pursuit of truth but in a peaceful manner.
He said the 30,000 people from all walks of life who paid their last respects and who participated in the funeral procession bore testimony that Karpal led a meaningful life.
Former law minister Datuk Zaid Ibrahim said Karpal’s other contribution as an opposition MP was to ensure that the government and Parliament were responsible to the people.
“In the course of carrying that duty, he was suspended from the House at least two times for tenaciously questioning the government,” he added.
Zaid said Karpal had a mind of his own and spoke according to his conscience.
Datuk Jagjit Singh, who studied law with Karpal at University of Malaya in Singapore, said the former DAP national chairman would always be remembered for his contribution to the Malaysian criminal justice system.
“Karpal is responsible for restoring the standard of proof required in criminal cases which the Privy Council had once altered,” he added.
Karpal’s widow Gurmit Kaur received the award in a ceremony at the Royal Selangor which was attended by about 300 people.
He died on April 17 in a car accident at the North-South Expressway, along with his assistant, Michael Cornelius Selvam Vellu. – July 1, 2014.