PUTRAJAYA, Jan 9 — Six decades after Malaysia was formed, Attorney-General Tan Sri Idrus Harun has proposed making the Malay translation replace the original English text of the Federal Constitution as the authoritative version.
Even so, he said the proposal requires the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's approval.
“The Federal Constitution acts as our cornerstone in implementing the separation of powers. Therefore, for the year 2023, pursuant to Article 160A of the Federal Constitution, the AGC plans to reprint the Federal Constitution to incorporate the latest historic constitutional amendments.
“The AGC also plans to propose to the government that the prescription of the Federal Constitution in the national language to be the authoritative text in line with Article 160B of the Federal Constitution. These two plans are subject to the approval of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong,” he said in his speech at the Opening of the Legal Year 2023 here today.
Article 160B states that: “Where this Constitution has been translated into the national language, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong may prescribe such national language text to be authoritative, and thereafter if there is any conflict or discrepancy between such national language text and the English language text of this Constitution, the national language text shall prevail over the English language text.”
Currently, the English text for the Federal Constitution is the authoritative text in Malaysia.
Based on Malay Mail’s check of the AGC’s Federal Legislation portal where official text of laws in Malaysia including the Federal Constitution can be accessed, both the English version and Malay translation of the Federal Constitution are displayed.
The Federal Constitution displayed were from the latest reprint dated October 15, 2020, with the Malay translation of the Federal Constitution as of October 2020 having this note on its very first page: “Teks ini HANYALAH TERJEMAHAN oleh Jabatan Peguam Negara bagi Federal Constitution. Melainkan jika dan sehingga ditetapkan sahih di bawah Perkara 160B Perlembagaan Persekutuan, teks ini bukan perundangan”.
The note would mean that the Malay translation of the Federal Constitution was stated to be “only a translation” by the AGC, and that it is not law unless and until it has been prescribed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong as authoritative.
Based on local daily The Star's September 30, 2003 report, the then Yang di-Pertuan Agong launched the Malay translation of the Federal Constitution on September 29, 2003.
The Star report had cited then attorney-general Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail's speech --- which was read out at the event by then solicitor-general Puan Sri Zaitun Zawiyah Puteh --- who said the Federal Constitution was not drafted in Malay as it was based on the Reid Commission's reports, and that a Malay translation was produced in 1972 but with the Attorney-General's Chambers' review of the translated text only completed in 2002.
Both Article 160A and Article 160B are relatively new provisions, as they were inserted into the Federal Constitution and only came into force from September 28, 2001.
While Article 160B was inserted to enable the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to prescribe the Malay translation of the Federal Constitution to be the authoritative text, Article 160A enables the reprinting of the Federal Constitution --- with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong's consent — to include all amendments to the Federal Constitution and with the reprinted version will be treated as a true and correct copy or the authentic text.
The issue of which is the authoritative text of the Federal Constitution has been raised in cases involving the unilateral conversion of children — born in non-Muslim marriages — to be Muslims by their Muslim convert parent, with the Federal Court in 2018 unanimously confirming in M. Indira Gandhi's case that the English text of the Federal Constitution is authoritative since it has not been shown that the Yang di-Pertuan Agong has prescribed the Malay translation to be authoritative.
A lawyer for the Selangor Islamic Religious Council had in the Court of Appeal in January 2022 attempted to argue that the Malay translation of the Federal Constitution should be seen as the official version. The Court of Appeal did not decide on this matter as hearing was postponed with the raising of that new argument and to determine whether there is such a Malay translation.
Among guests attending the event today were deputy minister from the Prime Minister's Department in charge of law and institutional reforms, Ramkarpal Singh.
Among other things, Idrus also said the AGC had constantly made amendments to laws in Malaysia and had successfully reprinted about 100 laws --- especially those related to election ---- in 2022 alone, with the updated and revised versions of these laws made publicly available online on the Federal Legislation Portal Malaysia.
Idrus, who chairs the National Legal Aid Foundation (YBGK), said the foundation was established in 2011 and had relied much on the government's RM5 million grant that year with additional support from the Malaysian Bar in the form of RM200,000 as well as expertise, location and staff.
Idrus said YBGK has continued to rely on government grants which it receives annually since 2011, but said government funds alone cannot sustain the foundation's current operation especially in remunerating YBGK lawyers who tirelessly contributed their services to provide access to justice to those in need.
"As a way forward, it is hoped that our counterpart, the Bar will provide arduous support in finding additional financial resources and sponsorship in order to sustain the operation of YBGK in years to come. I, therefore, wish to record YBGK’s appreciation in advance for the support to be extended by the Bar in the near future," he said.
He said that YBGK had a 13 per cent increase in the number of cases it represented, up from 197,621 cases in 2021 to 222,361 cases as of November 30, 2022, after the YBGK's website was updated to give easy access to the public.
Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah said YBGK lawyers, composed of Malaysian Bar members, have handled approximately 1.7 million cases ranging from arrests, remands, mitigation, bail, trials and appeals since YBGK's operations began in 2012.
Cheah said the Malaysian Bar hopes that the YBGK programme would be further expanded to enable the extension of access to justice to non-Malaysians.
Cheah, who had delivered her speech before Idrus, called for the Malaysian government to ensure the YBGK is given enough resources.
"It is the duty and responsibility of the government as the governing machinery to ensure that access to justice remains strong and present, and while the Bar is an important stakeholder in facilitating this process for the nation, we urge sufficient resources are made available for this programme to continue to be a success," she said.
Based on the YBGK's website, it has received a total of RM66,589,200 or over RM66 million in funds of varying amounts each year from the government from 2011 to 2022, including RM8.5 million in 2022. The amount of RM66 million does not include the RM200,000 sum which was contributed by the Malaysian Bar in 2011.