The Malaysian Court System

The Malaysian Court System 

Malaysia has adopted the English common law system and its court system is based on the English Judicial hierarchy, with the highest court being the Federal Court. Below the Federal Court are the Court of Appeal, two High Courts (Malaya, and Sabah and Sarawak), Sessions Courts, and Magistrates’ Courts.

Malaysian Courts Flow Chart

The jurisdiction of each Court has been clearly defined by statute, together with the Federal Constitution. Initially after gaining independence from Great Britain, Malaysia was litigious in its nature. However, due to economic growth and development, together with improved education, a greater number of cases were brought before the courts. The reasons for this increase may be as a result of growing trade and commercial activities resulting in increased contractual disputes, or as a due to a greater awareness of rights among the it citizens. Unfortunately as the case load grew, this growth was not mirrored in the appointment of new judges and establishment of new courts to deal with this growth. In addition another issue was the delays caused by lawyers and prosecutors preparing their cases for trial. This resulted in frequent postponement of cases and these cases which should have been disposed of remained on the court registry files. To further compound this situation Judges and magistrates were being transferred which resulted in a backlog of “part-heard” cases. This in turn lead to Judges attempting to make themselves available to hear existing cases in their previous locality whilst at the same time attempting to manage the case load in the new location to be available to continue with his or her case in the old locality which added to the delays.

Apart from the early problems highlighted above, the court system did not lend itself to litigants as a result of the following:

(i)          Proceedings are very formal and very often time-consuming and expensive with the atmosphere being considered unfriendly due to its adversarial nature.

(ii)         The language of the courts have been for a long time the English Language, and this language remains dominant in the Superior Courts, especially in the case of appeals. In the lower courts, such as the Magistrates’ Courts, the Bahasa Malay is now widely used with court translators for those not well-versed in either language. Judgments of Judges in the Superior Courts are generally written in English, while most commercial documents are made in the English language. So to the ordinary Malaysian resorting to the court system was seen as a last resort if not rejected all together.

(iii)        Use of the court system requires adherence to rules of procedure, with most of these rules are not understood by the common man, which results in lawyers being required to file cases in court; to draw up the required documentation and represent the case before the court.

The main problem facing the Malaysian court system is the backlog of cases. However, the backlog is being cleared steadily now, and a computerisation project for the courts has been initiated by the Government which now more effectively monitors efficiency of the system.

Another problem which did surfaced and has been reported widely was the increased workload of judges with resulted in delays in judgments, much of this delay was identified as being delays in the issuing of the written judgement after an oral decision. According to reports the main reason for this delay is that judges were over worked, specifically those in the High Court and Sessions Court. It was reported that nearly all judges begin their day by hearing chamber followed by presiding the full day in open court leaving them evenings and weekends to write their judgments.

In addition to the court system computerisation, there are several more judicial reforms which were implemented to clear the backlog of cases. This included the amendment of ‘The Rules of the High Court’ in September 2000 and the requirement for pre-trial management within fourteen days of the closing of pleadings (Order 34).