7-man bench likely to hear church’s leave application on ‘Allah’ issue, says lawyer
The Catholic Church's leave application on the "Allah" case before the Federal Court on March 5 is likely to be heard by a seven-man bench.
One of the church's lawyers, S. Selvarajah, said Federal Court senior assistant registrar Mohd Izuddin Mohamad had written to him yesterday asking for two additional sets of documents that had been filed previously.
"We take it that an enlarged bench will be constituted to hear the leave application pegged on key constitutional issues," he said.
In the past, Selvarajah said he had filed six sets of documents in dealing with Federal Court matters.
"Five is for the panel of judges in the apex court and one for the registrar's record."
Selvarajah said Izuddin had requested for eight sets of documents be supplied on matters relating to the church.
On Tuesday, Selvarajah had sent a letter to Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria to convey the church's request for a full panel comprising of Muslim and non-Muslim judges to hear its arguments.
The church also wanted a panel comprising judges who reflected the nation's multiracial and multi-religious diversity, given the nature of the issues raised.
"This is because fundamental constitutional provisions relating to state religion, freedom of minority religion, freedom of expression, which have far-reaching consequences for Malaysians of all races and religions, will be raised," according to the letter sighted by The Malaysian Insider.
Selvarajah said that the Court of Appeal ruling last year had also raised a serious public concern regarding the rights of minority religious groups to practise and profess their religions.
"A full bench of the Federal Court reflecting diversity in its composition would be most appropriate given the extensive public interest in the case," the letter stated.
However, who are the judges who will sit to hear leave applications and appeals in the Federal Court are never revealed beforehand.
The respondents are Putrajaya, Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association and six religious councils who are the against the church obtaining leave to appeal.
The church has submitted 26 questions on the Constitution, administrative law as well as the power of the court to allow the home minister to ban the use of a theological word.
These questions were part of the application filed by lawyers for the church, seeking leave to appear before the Federal Court to challenge the Court of Appeal's ruling on the "Allah" issue.
On October 14, a three-member bench led by Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali – which allowed Putrajaya's appeal to ban the Herald from using the word "Allah" – said there was a 1986 directive by the Home Ministry that prohibited non-Muslim publications from using four words: "Allah", "Kaabah", "Solat" and "Baitullah".
Apandi in his judgment said the reason for the prohibition was to protect the sanctity of Islam and prevent any confusion among Muslims.
He also ruled that if the word was allowed to be used by Christians, it could threaten national security and public order.
Furthermore, the court said the prohibition was reasonable on grounds that the word "Allah" was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice.
The decision sparked an outcry among Christians and other non-Muslims in both the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak. – February 14, 2014.