Judge can allow non-Muslim lawyers at syariah courts

National 2 minutes, 2 seconds


NON-MUSLIM lawyers may be able to practise at syariah courts at the discretion of the chief syar’ie judge, said the assistant solicitor-general on Thursday.

“If that lawyer is an excellent criminal lawyer but a non-Muslim, in that case he can apply for ad hoc admission to the Syariah Court. [The decision] is at the discretion of the chief syar’ie judge,” Hj Mohd Yusree Hj Junaidi told The Brunei Times.

Current law dictates that only Muslims can be admitted into the Syariah Court. Non-Muslim lawyers cannot qualify as syariah counsel even if they have the requisite knowledge of syariah laws, or pass the relevant course.

The president of the Law Society previously called for an amendment to current provisions that would allow non-Muslim lawyers into some areas of syariah practice.

“It is, of course, a subject for further research and I concede there may be some divergence of opinion but it is still something that should be seriously considered,” Hj Muhammad Zainidi Hj Abdul Hamid said in 2012.

Hj Mohd Yusree added there is a dire shortage of criminal lawyers in Brunei.

He said outside of the public prosecutor’s office, there are fewer than 20 criminal lawyers in private practice, with even fewer qualified as syariah counsel.

According to the Syariah Court’s website, the number of registered Syar’ie lawyers in 2011 was 35, but only 17 applied to renew their annual licence to practise.

Chief Syar’ie Judge Pehin Diraja Khatib Dato Seri Paduka Seri Setia Ustaz Hj Yahya Hj Ibrahim said the figure was “very small” compared to the number of cases heard in the court last year.

Of the 1,961 syariah cases registered in 2012, 359 were related to criminal offences.

With the introduction of the Syariah Penal Code this April, Director of State Judiciary Hj Mohd Serudin Hj Timbang anticipated an increase in the number of criminal cases that would be handled by the court. He said with the new legislation, 95 criminal offences – relating to theft, robbery, assault and immoral behaviour – can be handled by the court if they meet the high burden of proof required by syariah law.

The admitting of non-Muslim counsel into syariah courts is not a new issue.

In a landmark decision in 2013, the Malaysian Court of Appeal granted a non-Muslim lawyer permission to practise in syariah courts.

However, the decision is currently being challenged by the Attorney General’s Chambers and the Federal Territory Islamic Religious Council (MAIWP).

The Brunei Times