Prior to 1985, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council (JCPC) was the highest Court of Appeal. Appeals to the Privy Council in criminal and constitutional cases were abolished in 1978. In 1985, all civil appeals to the Privy Council were abolished.
Malaysia maintains two parallel justice systems: the Syariah Court System in each of the thirteen states, and the Civil Court System for the whole Federation. There are also two separate High Courts - one for the Peninsula and one for the Borneo states of Sabah and Sarawak.The Malaysian civil court system is based on the UK common law legal system.
Syariah courts decide matters within their 'exclusive jurisdiction' relating to Islamic law in which the litigants are all Muslim. This jurisdiction predominantly deals with personal and family law areas such as succession, betrothal, marriage, divorce, maintenance, adoption, guardianship, trusts, Islamic religious revenue and mosques. While criminal law is within the Federal Government’s jurisdiction, certain criminal offences which involve Muslims are also within the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts. The jursidiction is protected by Article 12(1A) of the Constitution, which provides that the civil courts have no jurisdiction in respect of any matter within the jurisdiction of the Syariah courts.
See detailed explanations of the Syariah court system in:
The following resources provide good overviews of the court structure, the judiciary and the administration of justice:
Yvonne Tew, 'The Malaysian Legal System: A Tale of Two Courts' (2011) 19 Commonwealth Judicial Journal 3-7 (open access) - this article discusses the relationship between the judiciary and the other two branches of government; the executive and the legislature, and the relationship of the civil courts with the religious Syariah courts.
Legal Systems in ASEAN: Malaysia (from the ASEAN Law Association) (open access) includes the following very useful (although a little dated) sections:
Structure of the Court Jurisdiction - on the Federal Court of Malaysia website - click the Public dropdown menu to see this information.
Judicial Training in ASEAN: A Comparative Overview of Systems and Programs - Malaysia (Human Rights Resource Centre, 2014) pages 45-52 (open access)
Halsbury's Laws of Malaysia (UniMelb staff & student access) contains a detailed chapter on the Courts and Judicial System.
Tan Sri James Foong, The Malaysian Judiciary: a Record (LexisNexis, 3rd ed, 2017) link to catalogue record
H P Lee and Richard Foo, 'The Malaysian Judiciary' in H P Lee and Marilyn Pittard, Asia-Pacific judiciaries: independence, impartiality and integrity (CUP, 2018) 231-263 Link to e-book
Tew, Yvonne, 'On the Uneven Road to Constitutional Redemption: The Malaysian Judiciary and Constitutional Politics' (2016) 25(3) Washington International Law Journal 674-696
Abstract: This Article explores the Malaysian judiciary’s approach toward interpreting the Federal Constitution of Malaysia and situates it within the context of the nation’s political and constitutional history. It traces the judiciary’s tentative movement toward a more rights-oriented approach followed by its more recent retreat in several appellate court decisions. The Article argues that the Malaysian courts’ journey toward constitutional redemption has been uneven so far. In order to reclaim its constitutional position as a co-equal branch of government, the Malaysian judiciary must exhibit greater willingness to assert its commitment to constitutional supremacy and the rule of law.
CLJ has a sophisticated search engine and can also be browsed by eg: court and/or topic. From the home page, select Advanced Search to see the following screen:
The Malayan Law Journal Unreporteds - (direct access to the database via this link) on Lexis Advance Pacific - from March 1991 to current (UniMelb staff & student access). Contains unreported judgments from the Federal Court, Court of Appeal and High Court that are not reported in the Malayan Law Journal Reports.
Unreported Decisions on Individual Court Websites
The High Court in Sabah and Sarawak - this portal includes:
CaseAnalysis Malaysia on LexisNexisAu - from 1932 to current.
(Note: as at 8 March 2018, this database is currently unavailable - access will be restored as soon as possible)
To find judicial consideration of legislation and specific legislative provisions, use CLJ Law (UniMelb staff & student access - requires a separate password in addition to your UniMelb password. Get password here).
To find judicial consideration of specific provisions of the Constitution, Federal and State Acts and subordinate legislation, you can either:
2. Start with the legislation