Webinar on “Fairer and Firmer? Justice and Constitution in Malaysia Today”

In this webinar, Dr Dian Shah and Mr Lim Wei Jiet discuss how has justice and human rights progressed under Pakatan and Perikatan, and how significant were Pakatan’s reforms to the justice system in Malaysia.


Thursday, 25 March 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute invited Dr Dian Shah and Lim Wei Jiet for an online question and answer session on the changes in the Malaysian judicial system since the watershed 2018 General Election (GE2018). Dr Dian is Assistant Professor of Law at the National University of Singapore and her research interests concern law and religion, comparative constitutional law, and human rights. She has authored numerous publications including Constitutions, Religion and Politics in Asia: Indonesia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka (2017). Lim Wei Jiet is a litigator at Messrs Sreenevasan and holds a LL. B (Hons) degree from the University of Malaya. He has served as counsel for both the Government and private entities in numerous landmark constitutional law disputes. In addition, Wei Jiet is Malaysia’s representative to the International Bar Association’s (IBA) Young Lawyers Committee and the Secretary-General of the National Human Rights Society (HAKAM). Dr Lee Hwok Aun, Senior Fellow at the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, moderated the webinar.

Mr Lim Wei Jiet and Dr Dian Shah
Mr Lim Wei Jiet and Dr Dian Shah discussed questions regarding the progress of justice and human rights under the Pakatan and Perikatan governments. Dr Lee Hwok Aun moderated the webinar. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

The first question posted by Dr Lee Hwok Aun concerns the direction of human rights and legal reforms under the present Perikatan Nasional (PN) government which assumed power since the “Sheraton Move”. Wei Jiet opined that the present administration, compared to Pakatan Harapan (PH), is less concerned about upholding the constitution and advancing human rights. Consequently, instances of human rights violations have increased under the PN administration. Regulations which restrict free speech have been introduced or revived, with the recent “fake news” law being a prime example. News agencies (e.g. Malaysiakini and Al Jazeera) have also been unfairly prosecuted when they publicise negative reports of Malaysia and government institutions.  In addition, despite a court order to temporarily halt the deportation of Myanmar nationals, the government ignored the verdict. Wei Jiet argued that the PN’s razor slim majority in parliament – and the accompanied precariousness – resulted in the need to call for an Emergency Declaration.

The second question inquired about attempts made during PH administration to implement legal and constitutional reforms. Wei Jiet argued that PH’s record was mixed due to the slow pace in pursuing reforms, though the long-term impacts of these reforms remains significant. Some of the achievements include constitutional amendments to lower the voting age, repeal of anti-fake news law, and the appointment of chief justice and Attorney General. Rule of law was also upheld as seen from the conviction of former Prime Minister Najib Razak in the SRC International funds trial. However, the administration backtracked from its earlier promise to rectify International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) and Rome Statute after conservative groups exerted pressure. Dr Dian provided an overview of the achievements made by the PH administration. During its 22 months in government, the administration appointed female judges into the nation’s highest court which improved gender representation and promoted public trust in the judiciary. Judges who were appointed to the bench also reaffirmed the importance of constitution and judicial independence. She admitted that while PH failed to deliver on some of the reforms it had previously promised, the administration placed much attention to restore the rule of law. She cautioned against the perception that PH is the sole agent responsible to deliver these reforms, as other social forces (e.g. civil society) also play an important role.  Despite the collapse of PH, the reform momentum remains present within the judiciary as seen from the recent Federal court verdict which ruled that Selangor state law which banned consensual same-sex conduct was unconstitutional.  

The third question concerns the recent court rulings on matters related to Islam, particularly on the verdict by Kuala Lumpur High Court on the rights of non-Muslims to use the word “Allah”. Wei Jiet opined that politicians need to find a compromise on the matter which sufficiently satisfy both the rights of Christian Bumiputra in East Malaysia and the anxiety among Malay-Muslims in the Peninsular. Other questions discussed include the possibility of political interference for high profile court cases, the role of monarchy in the recent emergency declaration, among others.  

The webinar attracted 70 participants from Singapore and abroad.

(Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)