PUTRAJAYA - A wife does not have the right to choose where she wants to stay, the Court of Appeal has ruled.
In Malaysia, the common law rule still applies, that is, the wife follows the husband's place of residence.
The court decided this in the appeal by former beauty queen Pauline Chai Siew Phin against a court order that favoured her estranged husband, tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, who wanted their divorce case heard in Malaysia instead of the United Kingdom.
Justice Balia Yusof Wahi, who chaired a three-man panel, said they found that there were no merits in Chai's appeal.
"Having found that the common law rule of domicile is still applicable in Malaysia, it is not open for the wife to have her domicile of her choice," he said in a unanimous decision.
"We are not agreeable that this court should depart from the common law rule," added Justice Balia.
The three judges, he said, also disagreed with Chai's lead counsel Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram that the rule was unconstitutional under Article 8 of the Federal Constitution, which is the clause on equality.
The judges said the rule is not beyond the powers of the Article 8.
The Court of Appeal, which affirmed an earlier High Court order, awarded RM30,000 (S$10,731) in costs to Khoo.
The other judges on the Bench were Court of Appeal judges Justice Dr Hamid Sultan Abu Backer and Justice Abdul Rahman Sebli.
Khoo was represented by counsel Datuk Dr Cyrus Das.
Outside the court, Chai's youngest daughter Angeline Francis, 31, said she was disappointed with the ruling.
"It is a sad day for women in Malaysia.
"When there is a chance to give women more rights and equality, this is obviously disappointing."
When contacted, Chai, who is abroad, was also sad about the outcome.
"It is time that coverture should be removed and done away with," she said.
The common law rule of coverture states that a wife's domicile is dependent on that of her husband's.
Chai, 68, intends to appeal against the court ruling.
She married Khoo in 1970 and they have five children.
Chai wanted a British court to decide on the divorce proceedings, claiming she had not been living in Malaysia since 1980 and is a resident of the United Kingdom. She is on a visitor's pass.
The former Miss Malaysia/International 1969 filed the divorce proceedings in England on Feb 14, 2013 against her husband, seeking half of his wealth as settlement.
She filed the divorce petition on grounds of unreasonable behaviour against Malaysia's 36th wealthiest man, according to the Forbes 2013 list of Malaysia's richest.
It was reported that Chai would get a smaller portion in matrimonial property if the case was decided according to Malaysian law.
An English High Court on Oct 17 last year held that it has the jurisdiction to hear the divorce petition.
Khoo is chairman of international investment holdings company Malayan United Industries Bhd and owns 44 per cent of UK fashion and furnishings retailer Laura Ashley Holdings.