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Southeast Asian Region Countries Law

Malaysian Courts, the Administration of Justice & the Judiciary

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:

  • Researching Islamic Law: Malaysian Sources (from Globalex) (open access); and
  • Halsbury's Laws of Malaysia (UniMelb staff & student access), which contains a detailed chapter on Islamic Law that explains the Administration of Islamic law, and Syariah civil and criminal procedure.

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:

  • Chapter 2. The Administration of Justice
  • Chapter 3. Other Courts With Specialised Jurisdiction
  • Chapter 4. Other Bodies and Institutions that are Related to the Judiciary

Structure of the Court Jurisdiction - on the Federal Court of Malaysia website - click the About Us 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)

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

Malaysia's Court Hierarchy

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.

Open Access Articles & Book Chapters on SSRN

Finding Malaysian Cases in English

Law Reports

  • The Malayan Law Journal Reports on Lexis+ Australia (direct access to the database via this link - UniMelb staff & student access) (vol 1 1932 to current). Contains reports of cases from the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, Malaysian High Court (in all states). This database can be browsed by year or searched.
  • Sharia Law Reports on Lexis+ Australia (direct access to the database via this link - UniMelb staff & student access) (2004 to current). This report series includes decisions of the Sub Court, Shariah High Courts, Shariah Appeal Courts and Civil Courts. The database is updated 4 times a year. This database can be browsed by year or searched.
    • Note: the text of the decisions in this report series is in Malay, but the catchwords, headnotes and detailed case summaries are in English.
  • CLJ Law (UniMelb staff & student access  - requires a separate password in addition to your UniMelb password. Includes:

    • Current Law Journal Reports (CLJ Rep / CLJ Supp)
    • Malaysian Tax Cases (MTC)
    • Business Law Journal (BLJ)
    • Industrial Law Reports (ILR)
    • Reported cases from the Magistrates and Sessions courts (SMC)
    • Syariah Reports (Selected cases from 2004 to current) (CLJ Sya/CLJ ISL/SYA/SHR)

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:

Unreported Decisions 

CLJ Law (UniMelb staff & student access - requires a password.) includes the LNS series - all unreported cases from:

  • Civil and criminal courts (LNS 1)
  • Industrial courts (LNS 2) 
  • Syariah courts (LNS 3) 
  • Magistrates and Sessions courts (LNS 5)
  • Orders (LNS(O))

The Malayan Law Journal Unreported - (direct access to the database via this link) on Lexis+ Australia - 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. 

  • Note - there is no browse option for this series - it can only be searched. 

Unreported Decisions on Individual Court Websites

Chief Registrar's Office, Federal Court of Malaysia website

  • includes completely up to date full-text Federal Court judgments and Court of Appeal judgments from 2008 onwards. The pages are in Malay, but can be translated by right-clicking anywhere in the page. The judgments themselves are provided as PDFs and are a mixture of Malay and English. The judgments can be browsed by date or searched by date, Case Number, Keyword, Summary, Judge and broad Topic. 
  • provides information relating to the Federal Court of Malaysia, the Malaysian Court of Appeal and the High Court of Malaysia (including Practice Notes and Practice Directions), and links to the Malaysian State Courts.

The High Court in Sabah and Sarawak - this portal includes:

  • information about the court and judges, and practice directions. 

Finding Cases on Legislative Provisions

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.

To find judicial consideration of specific provisions of the Constitution, Federal and State Acts and subordinate legislation, you can either:

  1. Start on the CLJ Home Page. Use the search boxes (in either simple or Advanced Search) to type a search term and then the Act and section number (if required). The Act box will autosuggest legislation titles as you type.
    TIP: you must type a search term, or you will get no results.


2. Start with the legislation

  • Once in CLJ Law, select BROWSE on the top menu, and select Federal Acts or State Enactments from the dropdown menu
  • Navigate to the Act or piece of subordinate legislation in which you are interested (From the Acts page, you can find legislation by title, Act number, or subject).
  • The menu of the left of each Act lists the sections. Click on the specific legislative provision, and it will be shown in full in the right window pane.
  • If there are any cases on this provision, there will be a blue 'Cases Referred' button at the top of the screen, with a red number indicating the number of cases considering the provision.
  • Click on the blue button and the list of cases will appear.