Written by Sophia Ismail
Oftentimes in the news, you’d see someone appearing in the Sessions Court, charged in the High Court, and appealing their case in the Court of Appeal. Have you ever wondered what these courts mean and how cases are allocated? And why does it matter?
In Malaysia, a court hierarchy exists in the civil and criminal court system where there are different scopes of jurisdiction at each level. The term ‘jurisdiction’ will come up often, but all it means is the authority of a court to hear and determine cases. This article will aim to break down the essential elements and rules. Hopefully it will provide insight into how the system works here. So let’s crack on!
The Malaysian Court Hierarchy – An Overview
The courts in Malaysia are divided into the subordinate courts (governed by the Subordinate Courts Act 1948) and the superior courts (governed by the Courts of Judicature Act 1964). The subordinate courts consist of the Sessions Courts and the Magistrates courts. Not depicted in the chart above is the Court for Children, which has the same jurisdiction with the Magistrate’s Court.
On the other hand, the superior courts are; the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Federal Court. Outside the court hierarchy are the Syariah Courts, Native Courts, and Special Court which will not be discussed in this article. It should be noted that there is no jury system in Malaysia for criminal matters as it was effectively abolished on 1st January 1995.
A court’s original jurisdiction in the Magistrates is governed by monetary limits.
As per changes in Subordinate Courts (Amendment) Act 2010, a First Class Magistrate shall have jurisdiction to try all actions and suits of a civil nature where the amount in dispute or value of the subject matter does not exceed RM100,000.00. The monetary jurisdiction of a Second Class Magistrate is now RM10,000.00.
Additionally, the Magistrates also have the power to deal with small claims procedures where the value in dispute/subject matter does not exceed RM 5,000. An important difference of a small claims procedure is that parties cannot be represented by a lawyer unless legally required to by virtue of Order 93, rule 7 of the Rules of Court 2012.
Subject to limitations contained in the Subordinate Courts Act 1948 (“SCA”), a First Class Magistrate has jurisdiction to try all offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law does not exceed ten years imprisonment or which are punishable with fine only and offences under sections 392 and 457 of the Penal Code. This is pursuant to Section 85 of SCA.
In regards to sentencing, a First Class Magistrate may pass any sentence allowed by law not exceeding, five years’ imprisonment, a fine of RM 10 000, whipping up to twelve strokes or any sentence combining any of the sentences mentioned. This is pursuant to Section 87 of SCA.
For Second Class Magistrates, under Section 88 of SCA, a Second Class Magistrate shall only have jurisdiction to try offences for which the maximum term of imprisonment provided by law does not exceed twelve months’ imprisonment of either description or which are punishable with fine only. Provided that a Second Class Magistrate is of the opinion that if a conviction should result, the powers of punishment which he possesses would be inadequate, he shall take the necessary steps to adjourn the case for trial by a First Class Magistrate.
In regards to sentencing, a Second Class Magistrate may pass any sentence allowed by law not exceeding six months’ imprisonment, a fine of not more than RM 1000, or any sentence combining either of the sentences mentioned.
As per changes in Subordinate Courts (Amendment) Act 2010 , the monetary jurisdiction of the Sessions Court is now RM1,000,000. They also have unlimited jurisdiction to try all actions and suits of a civil nature in respect of motor vehicle accidents, landlord and tenant and distress actions. Furthermore, by virtue of Section 65(3) SCA, the parties to a legal action may enter into an agreement in writing to grant jurisdiction to the Sessions Court to try an action beyond the prescribed monetary jurisdiction.
Under Sections 63 and 64 SCA, a Sessions Court shall have jurisdiction to try all offences other than offences punishable with death and may pass any sentence allowed by law other than the sentence of death.
Generally, the High Court has unlimited jurisdiction and there is no limit on the value of claims they can decide on. All proceedings at a High Court are generally heard and disposed of before a single judge. Under the Courts of Judicature Act 1964 (CJA), it has original and appellate jurisdiction. For example, if your claim exceeds both the Magistrates and Sessions Court jurisdiction, you can start your case in the High Court. This also means you have the right to appeal to the High Court if you started your case in the Magistrates or Sessions Court (subject to conditions). However, no appeal shall lie to the High Court from a decision of a subordinate court in any civil cause or matter where the amount in dispute or the value of the subject-matter is RM 10 000 or less except on a question of law.
The High Court also has general supervisory and revisionary jurisdiction over all subordinate courts. Over the years, specialised courts within the High Courts have been established such as the Construction Court, Intellectual Property Court, and the Admiralty Court.
Under Section 22 of the CJA, the High Court has jurisdiction to try all offences. This includes offences that carry the death penalty which exceeeds the jurisdiction of the Magistrates and Sessions Courts. Appeals from subordinate courts may also be heard here.
Court of Appeal
As per the CJA, every proceeding in the Court of Appeal shall be heard and disposed of by three Judges or such greater uneven number of Judges as the President may in any particular case determine. Proceedings shall be decided in accordance with the opinion of the majority of the Judges composing the Court. Wherever application may be made either to the High Court or to the Court of Appeal, it shall be made in the first instance to the High Court.
The Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear and determine appeals from any judgment or order of any High Court in any civil cause or matter, whether made in the exercise of its original or of its appellate jurisdiction, subject to written laws regulating the terms and conditions the appeals shall be brought. However, no appeal shall be brought to the Court of Appeal in cases where the amount or value of the subject-matter of the claim (exclusive of interest) is less than RM 250 000 except with the Court’s leave.
The Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear and determine any appeal against any decision made by the High Court.
Similarly to the Court of Appeal, the Federal Court is an appellate court. It is the highest court in Malaysia, hence the final court of appeal for both civil and criminal cases. Under the CJA, every proceeding in the Federal Court is heard and disposed of by three Judges or such greater uneven number of Judges as the Chief Justice may in any particular case determine. Proceedings shall be decided in accordance with the opinion of the majority of the Judges composing the Court. Whenever an application may be made either to the Court of Appeal or to the Federal Court, it shall be made in the first instance to the Court of Appeal.
Additionally, it also has original jurisdiction under article 128(1) and (2) of the Constitution to determine any matters concerning constitutional law. Thus, it has advisory jurisdiction in providing Yang di-Pertuan Agong to give its opinion as to the effect of any provisions in the Federal Constitution which is to be pronounced in open court.
Published on 17 June 2021