Malaysia's federal court rules there's no need to review decision on weekly's use of word Allah

Malaysia's federal court rules there's no need to review decision on weekly's use of word Allah
Herald editor Lawrence Andrew.

PUTRAJAYA - The Catholic weekly Herald has lost its final bid to convince the Federal Court to review its decision to refuse the publisher leave to challenge the Home Ministry over the ban on its use of the word "Allah".

Federal Court judge Justice Abdull Hamid Embong, who headed a five-man panel, ruled that Herald's publisher did not merit a review application under Rule 137 of the Federal Court Rules 1995.

"We have come to the unanimous conclusion that there has not occurred any procedural unfairness (in this case)," he said yesterday.

He said the Bench had thoroughly discussed the points highlighted by Datuk Dr Cyrus Das, lead counsel for the Herald, before making its decision.

Justice Abdull Hamid added that there would be no finality in any decision by the apex court if there was no strict approach over the handling of a review application.

The court did not make any order as to costs. Also on the panel were Justices Ahmad Maarop, Hasan Lah, Ramly Ali and Azahar Mohamed.

Earlier, Dr Das put forward 12 grounds - mainly highlighting procedural unfairness and lack of natural justice - that he claimed warranted the apex court reviewing its decision.

"There was procedural unfairness when decisions on central points were made without hearing the parties," he submitted.

He also submitted that the apex court must be ready to answer critical questions concerning the Constitution and that it could not simply ignore these, or the issues would come up again on other occasions.

According to him, the court failed to realise the public importance of the case, despite the fact that its significance was self-evident in that there was a panel of seven judges to hear the original application for leave to challenge.

Also, he submitted, "the sharp divide of 4:3 against reflects the deep controversy over the issue at stake".

The Herald also petitioned for a larger panel to hear the review application but this was rejected.

"We are five judges looking at the majority decision of four judges. So, we are a larger panel," said Justice Abdull Hamid.

Senior Federal Counsel Suzana Atan applied to the court to dismiss the review application on the grounds that there was no injustice involved and that there was no special circumstances that warranted a review.

Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah, who was representing the Terengganu Malay Customs and Islamic Religious Council, submitted that the issues had been ventilated, justice had been done and the court should reject a review because it would re-open old wounds and re-spark public unrest.

The Catholic Church had sought, among other things, a declaration that the decision by the Home Ministry on Jan 7, 2009, to prohibit the use of the word "Allah" in the Herald was illegal and that the word was not exclusive to Islam.

The High Court quashed the ministry's ban order on Dec 31, 2009, and the Government appealed against the decision.

The Court of Appeal on Oct 14, 2013, ruled that the Catholic weekly would not be allowed to use "Allah".

Herald's publisher - then Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, who is now Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Emeritus - filed the review application.

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