Moving High Court registry from Sarawak to Sabah “unconstitutional”, CMO says

Photo of the Kuching Court Complex, which also houses the Registry of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak.

By Peter Sibon

KUCHING, April 22: The Sarawak government regards the relocation of the Registry of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak from Kuching to Kota Kinabalu as “unconstitutional”, as Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg was not consulted.

The Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) pointed out that the Chief Minister must be consulted as stipulated under Article 121 (4) of the Federal Constitution.

“Reference is made to the letter of the Chief Registrar of the Federal Court on the relocation of the registry of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak, and the press statement by Datuk Liew Vui Keong, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department on the same issue.

“It is confirmed that there was no consultation by the Prime Minister with the Chief Minister of Sarawak on the matter, as mandatorily required under Article 121(4) of the Federal Constitution.

“The Sarawak government strongly objects to this non-compliance with the rule of law and view this relocation as unconstitutional,” said CMO in a statement today.

It stressed that although the state accepted that the final decision on this matter rests with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the advice of the Prime Minister, it remained imperative that the fundamental constitutional process of consultation be adhered to.

“This unconstitutional act, if not checked, will in future have wider repercussions on the rights of Sarawak under the Constitution,” it emphasised.

The CMO statement was also issued to rebut Liew’s comment yesterday that there was nothing in law or in the Constitution that says the registry shall remain in Kuching forever.

He said the decision was made by the top four judges in March this year.

Liew also said it was purely a judicial decision and that moving it to Kota Kinabalu changed nothing as far as the administration of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak was concerned.

“Nothing physical moved except for the residence of the Registrar of the High Court,” he said, adding that since independence, the registry has always been in Kuching.

“There is nothing in law or in the Constitution which says that the Registry shall remain in Kuching forever. In fact, it’s to the contrary as provided in Article 121 (4) of the Federal Constitution. Impliedly, Sabah has its right to house the registry, too,” he argued.

According to Liew, when the new Kota Kinabalu Court Complex was ready for occupation late last year, the former Chief Judge Tan Sri Richard Malanjum thought the time had come for Sabah to house it.

“This idea was put to the top management, who also agreed. However, the Advocates Association of Sarawak flatly rejected the idea.

“Last March, Tan Sri Richard wrote to the Prime Minister for permission for the move to Kota Kinabalu premised on several reasons, which the Prime Minister consented,” he said.

Thereafter, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong granted his royal assent early this month. It was only after that the Chief Registrar issued the circular of relocation on April 19, 2019, Liew disclosed.

The relocation, effective this May 1, was revealed in an official government letter dated April 19 and signed by Chief Registrar of the Federal Court, Datuk Seri Latifah Mohd Tahar.

This decision shocked many. When asked to comment on the impasse, senior lawyer Shankar Ram questioned Putrajaya’s intention of making such a move.

“The registry of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak has been here for a very long time. Why the sudden move? Does this have something to do with Gabungan Parti Sarawak (GPS) MPs abstaining from voting the Federal Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2019?” he wondered.

Shankar insisted that the federal government must comply with the provision of Article 121(4).

He said this could be seen by the common people as a form of erosion in terms of Sarawakians’ rights.

“What are they going to do next? Are they going to lift our immigration laws as well? The relocation should be stopped and Sarawakians must take a stand on this,” he said.

Shankar, who is a senior member of the Bar in Sarawak and a member of the Bar in Malaya, pointed out that the sort of complications that had come Sarawak’s way so far or the impasse between the federal and state governments must be resolved in the best interests of the nation.

“We must have a strong united Sarawak for a strong Malaysia, and our Right Honourable PM and Right Honourable CM of Sarawak must work in harmony,” he said. — DayakDaily