KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 6 — The Court of Appeal today decided to bring forward to December 22 the hearing date for the federal government’s application for a temporary suspension of the High Court ruling that children born to Malaysian women outside the country have a right to citizenship.

The appellate court was initially scheduled to hear this on March 18 next year.

The government sought for an interim order to preserve the status quo, meaning that children born abroad to Malaysian women are not entitled to Malaysian citizenship unlike those whose fathers are Malaysian.

If any stay was granted, it would have enabled the Malaysian government to not take any steps to recognise the Malaysian mother’s children born overseas as Malaysians or to give any documents proving their citizenship, until the Court of Appeal decides on the appeal.

The government’s appeal proper is still scheduled to be heard on March 23, 2022 at the Court of Appeal.

Court of Appeal judge Datuk Yaacob Md Sam noted that the High Court’s September 9 order does not mention the deadline for when the government has to comply with the ruling -- that is to recognise the Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children as citizens and to issue them with citizenship documentation  — news portal Free Malaysia Today reported today.

The clear blue sky is visible over the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya October 8, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
The clear blue sky is visible over the Palace of Justice in Putrajaya October 8, 2015. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

The events before today

Previously, six affected Malaysian mothers with overseas-born children together with advocacy group Family Frontiers had on September 9, 2021 succeeded in their lawsuit in the High Court against the Malaysian government, the National Registration Department (NRD) director-general and the home minister.

The High Court had on September 9 decided that Malaysian mothers have the same right as Malaysian fathers under the Federal Constitution to pass on citizenship to their children born overseas, and had also ordered the authorities to issue the relevant documentation such as identity cards and passports to such children born to Malaysian mothers.

But the Malaysian government, home minister and the NRD director-general had on September 14 filed an appeal against the High Court’s decision for citizenship-linked documents to be issued to the Malaysian mothers’ overseas-born children.

Apart from filing the appeal at the Court of Appeal, the Malaysian government had also tried applying for a stay or to temporarily suspend the High Court’s decision until the appeal is heard and decided by the Court of Appeal.

But the High Court had on November 15 rejected the government’s stay application, which then resulted in the Malaysian government then going to the Court of Appeal to ask for a stay of the High Court’s September decision.

The Malaysian government had on November 16 filed for a stay application at the Court of Appeal, and had also on November 17 asked for the interim stay application as the stay application would only be heard on March 18, 2022.

The stay application would essentially be the Malaysian government’s second attempt at temporarily suspending the High Court’s September 9 decision that was in the Malaysian mothers’ favour.

In a brief statement, Family Frontiers today confirmed that the Court of Appeal had not made any order on the interim stay application and had instead brought forward the hearing date for the stay application to December 22.

Commenting on the Court of Appeal’s move today to expedite the hearing of the stay application, Family Frontiers said: “Early court dates are appreciated and Family Frontiers hopes to have this issue resolved once and for all.”

“While this process is ongoing, children born overseas to Malaysian women continue to be denied their right to affordable healthcare and public education. They also have uncertainty with regard to their right to residence, which may result in forced family separation and a lifetime of uncertainty and emotional turmoil,” Family Frontiers said.

It also added that the Malaysian government should withdraw its appeal and implement the High Court judgment immediately, in consideration of the best interests of the children.

The home minister had previously sought to justify the government’s appeal by saying that this was necessary to prevent contempt of court, while the government pursues efforts to amend the Federal Constitution to address citizenship issues for Malaysian mothers who are married to foreigners and give birth overseas.