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Southeast Asian Legal Research Guide (ARCHIVE): Introduction to Malaysia and its Legal System

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Rule of Law and Human Rights in Malaysia


The Rule of Law & Human Rights in Malaysia page on the Human Rights in ASEAN website (open access). 

The World Justice Project - Rule of Law Index - Country Profile for Malaysia (open access).

Update on the Rule of Law for Human Rights in ASEAN: The Path to Integration (2016) (open access) (published by the Human Rights Resource Centre). Includes a detailed chapter on Malaysia.

Malaysia has a National Human Rights Commission with the power to accept individual complaints of human rights abuse. The Commission’s findings and recommendations, however, are not binding. 

Malaysian Legal News from Global Legal Monitor

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A great place to start Malaysian legal research....

Halsbury's Laws of Malaysia on Lexis Advance (UniMelb staff & student access) is a good starting point to obtain overviews of Malaysian legal topics. It is an encyclopaedic resource arranged alphabetically by subject, and includes scholarly commentary and references to significant cases and legislation. A note of caution: some parts of the encylopaedia is not as up-to-date as others, so always check the currency of the information in the section in which you are interested.

Malaysia's Legal System

The Malaysian legal system is a complex product of its history, particularly as a British colony. It is a predominantly common law country, with a separate Islamic law system.


Legal Systems in ASEAN: Malaysia (open access) from the ASEAN Law Association. Although a little dated, this provides an excellent and detailed overview of the History and Development of the Legal System, and the Administration of Justice.

'Is Malaysia an Islamic State?' by Tommy Thomas (open access on the Malaysian Bar council website).

See also:

Sources of Malaysian Law

The sources of law in current day Malaysia include:

  • Common law ie: judge made law.
  • Legislation - Federal and State
  • Treaties / international law
  • Islamic law
    • Muslims are subject to Islamic / Syariah Law. Islamic laws are mostly civil laws (personal laws and family law). The rules of Syariah are set by various sultans, who serve as Head of the Islamic religion in their respective states. Islamic laws are enacted by state legislatures, except for the Federal Territories (Kuala Lumpur, Labuan and Putrajaya); Federal Territories laws are enacted by the Federal Parliament.

For a detailed explanation of Malaysian sources of law, see Introduction to the Malaysian Legal System and Sources of Law - from Globalex 

General Country Information

Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy. It was formed in 1963 as a federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, all former British colonies. Malaysia was granted independence from Britain in 1957. Singapore left the federation in 1965. Malaysia today comprises 13 states and three federal territories. Each state has its own elected assembly and head of state. Nine of the states are ruled by traditional monarchs, known as sultans, who elect the Malaysian Head of State, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Although the formal head of State, the functions of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong have been purely ceremonial since constitutional amendments in 1993 and 1994. Malaysia is a member of the Commonwealth.

Malay is the official language. English is widely spoken.

As stated in its Constitution, Islam is the official religion in Malaysia and is practiced by over 60% of the population.

The following resources include general country information - history, demographics, economy, politics and government etc.

  • Malaysia Country Review (UniMelb staff & student access) - an annually updated detailed report of demographic, social, political, economic, business, investment, cultural and environmental information. This is an excellent an up to date source of information on the history and government of Malaysia, and includes information on freedoms, human rights, status of women etc.
  • Europa World Plus (UniMelb staff & student access) - use the Countries/Territories tab on the top menu to find information on Malaysia.
  • The CIA World Factbook - Malaysia (open access) includes country information in 80 topic areas under the main headings of Geography, People and Society, Economy, Energy, Communications, Military & Security, Transportation, and Transnational Issues.

See also:

Doing Business in Malaysia