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Cabinet reiterates 'civil court for civil marriage disputes' decision

Kow Gah Chie
Published:  |  Modified:

The cabinet has reiterated in principle that an interfaith custodial dispute should be referred to the civil court if the couple married under civil law.

This was revealed by Health Minister Dr S Subramaniam who said the cabinet meeting on Wednesday, chaired by Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak, had rehashed the decision.

"The prime minister had made it very clear that he wanted to find a solution to this problem," he said when attending ponggal (harvest) festival celebration at Batu Caves last night.

The family structure of a civil marriage between two non-Muslims and their children should not be disrupted by conversion issue, he elaborated.

"When a person converted, any issue related to that should be resolved within the ambit of civil court; that is the whole crux of our decision. This is our (cabinet’s) principle," he said.

The cabinet had made the decision in 2009 that a child must be raised in the faith professed by both parents at the time of the marriage.

The then decision was made following news that Indira’s estranged husband, K Patmanathan aka Muhammad Ridzuan Abdullah, had converted their three children to Islam without her consent.

However, former de facto law minister Nazri Abdul Aziz revealed in 2013 that the Conference of Rulers objected to the implementation of the 2009 decision.

When asked what would happen if the Conference of Rulers again disagrees with the cabinet, Subramaniam said the government is exploring other ways, but refused to elaborate.

"Yes, we are looking at various options and we are discussing with the Attorney-General's Chambers. I can't tell you the details.”

Subramaniam stressed that interfaith custodial issue is a legal issue and not a religious matter.

"This is not a religious issue. This is a legal issue, where the law has been interpreted by different people and by judges differently." he added.

Since those who interpreted the law and the federal constitution came up with different opinions, he said the lawmakers’ responsibility is to spell out the law clearly.

"We will give clarity to the law itself so there is no need for the judges to interpret it differently," he emphasised.

New cabinet committee

In the M Indira Gandhi case, the Court of Appeal last month ruled in favour of her ex-husband K [email protected] Riduan Abdullah.

In a majority decision on Dec 30, 2015, it ruled that the Ipoh High Court did not have the jurisdiction to hear the conversion of Indira's children - when they were 12 years old, 11 years, and 11 months - by her convert ex-husband.

The appellate court also said the validity of the conversion certificates is the exclusive purview of the syariah courts, outside of the ambit of the civil courts.

The MIC president sits in the new committee set up by the cabinet to deal with unilateral conversion conundrums, such as Indira’s.

Others in the committee are Culture and Tourism Minister Mohd Nazri Aziz and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Jamil Khir Baharom.

In the press conference last night, Subramaniam said two other ministers - Transport Minister Liow Tiong Lai and Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Joseph Kurup - have been roped into the committee.

It was reported the government will discuss the issue with attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali and table enactments to the Parliament in March.

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