What is a Private Bill? In the Malaysian parliamentary democracy, it allows laws to be initiated or changed by Members of Parliament who are not Ministers. They can introduce (table) private members bills.
The bill can be tabled in Parliament, provided it is listed on the agenda, the ‘Order Paper’. By convention, government business has priority, thus private members bills are last on the Order Paper. Secondly, a private members bill could only be tabled, if the government ‘gives way’ as it was allowed in the case of Private Bill 355.
The proposed amendments to the Syariah Courts (Criminal Jurisdiction) Act 1965 (Act 355) and laws is to strengthen the Syariah Court where its powers are restricted to a maximum prison sentence of 3 years, a fine of RM5, 000 and 6 syar’ie compliant strokes of cane.
The last amendment made in 1984, saw an increase in 6 months imprisonment and a fine of RM1, 000. However, the punishment met out is considered outdated and has not created awareness nor guilt to the wrongdoer.
Non-Muslims may not be tried under the Syariah courts as the Federal Constitution establishes the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court only to Muslims and Act 355, Section 2 also describes only Muslims can be tried and punished in the Syariah Court. Neither does Act 355 has relevance to the implementation of Hudud law.
The Private Bill 335 if becomes law, legislates maximum imprisonment of 30 years, fine up to RM100, 000 and up to 100 syar’ie compliant strokes. It is the transfer of limits of punishment of shariah offences at the federal parliament to state assemblies (except for the Federal Territories).
If the bill becomes law, the states have the choice to stay with the state legislature or to abide with the change.
The constituents should realise, the obvious failure of their MPs who play an important role to advocate social harmony and understanding as imparted through the National Philosophy (Rukun Negara):
1. Belief in God
2. Loyalty to King and Country
3. Supremacy over the Constitution
4. The Rule of Law and
5. Mutual respect and good social behavior
The resounding ‘No’ by many MPs is a case of ignorance about practices of Islam upon its followers (Muslim). Furthermore, it has been politicized to accord similar treatment of civil laws despite the fundamentals of the Federal Constitution allowing it.
The constituents are concerned on issues of family disputes involving divorce, unilateral conversion of children, custody battles, apostate and etc which requires deliberation on amendments under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act and the Islamic Family Law Act/Enactment.
Muslims are not homogeneous, just like a Buddhists, Christians or a Hindus. They lived on a conduct and laws to their beliefs in a civil society. Respect is an attitude that requires both parties, not one. Religion is sacred and not a toy for politics.