Kuching court defers hearing on mother’s right to child’s religious upbringing to Oct 11

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Photo shows the Kuching Court Complex. — Photo by Chimon Upon

KUCHING (Sept 11): The High Court here has postponed the hearing of a case regarding a mother’s right to her child’s religious upbringing until Oct 11 because an official report from the National Registration Department (JPN) is still pending.

Senior Federal Counsel (SFC) Shamsul Bolhassan, who is acting for all six respondents including the JPN, told the court today that he needed the one-month extension because his replies to the submissions of the plaintiff would depend on the JPN’s official report.

Shamsul indicated that they had made the request for the report from the JPN at the end of August, but did not state reason for the delay.

The woman’s lawyer Joshua Baru had initially objected to SFC’s request for extension of time, suggesting that the hearing should start today as the JPN’s internal working is not the plaintiff’s issue but rather the age of her son, who will turn 18 on Oct 18.

It is understood that the legal consideration for the case later on may be different when the child is 18 and above, compared to when he is below 18.

High Court Judge Zaleha Rose Pandin who presided over the case, said she decided to grant the one-month adjournment of the trial hearing in the interest of justice.

Earlier, the plaintiff’s other lawyer Clarice Chan pleaded to the court for the names of the parties be simply referred to “father”, “mother” and “child” throughout the court proceedings in order to protect  their identities, in which the SFC had no objection.

She also said the woman’s originating summons was served on the JPN on Aug 10.

The 52-year-old plaintiff filed an originating summons in early August to seek a declaration that she has the right to determine the religion and upbringing of her teenage son, who at present has a Muslim name on his MyKad.

The plaintiff is seeking a court order to compel the JPN, among others, to record changes in her son’s MyKad in relation to religion.

The mother named the Malaysian Births, Deaths and Adoptions director; the Sarawak regional registrar of Births and Deaths; the Identity Card Division director; the JPN director-general; JPN; and the federal government, as the first to sixth defendants.

From earlier media report, it is understood that the son, who was born in Sabah and is now residing in Sarawak, has professed the Buddhist faith all his life.

The divorcee contends that her son’s Muslim father has no objections to him being a Buddhist.

The boy declared support in his affidavit for his Buddhist mother’s legal challenge against JPN’s alleged delay in changing his religious status on his MyKad.

The teenager has just completed his schooling at a Chinese-medium school in Kota Kinabalu Sabah, and friends knew him by his Chinese name.

Born on Oct 18, 2005, the teenager during his schooling years did not take any Islamic religious classes and has neither practised Islam in his life nor want to be identified as a Muslim.

The mother and the boy’s father were married under Sabah’s Islamic Family Law Enactment 1992 on Aug 3, 1999 but she continued to practice Buddhism.

The couple divorced on Jan 27, 2010. The woman was granted sole care and custody of their son, who was raised as a Buddhist since birth.

Her former husband, who is a Muslim, has since remarried and now has a separate family of his own.

The mother claimed that on July 5 this year, she and her lawyers faced problems when applying to JPN Sarawak to change the details in her son’s identity card registers.

The applicant claimed that a woman JPN Sarawak  counter staff member refused to accept the application and instead gave her a separate set of forms to fill.

The mother claimed she resubmitted the application on July 18 with supporting documents from her former husband as well as their son, which JPN accepted.

She alleged that following her lawyers’ letter to the state JPN, the department replied via a letter dated July 31 that neither granted nor rejected the application and that she was asked to fill even more forms.

The mother said the forms were repetitive as they were, in essence, identical – especially the second and third forms – save for the provisions of the relevant ordinance.

She contended that as a Malaysian citizen, she is entitled to correct the details on her son’s identity card in the relevant register in any part of the country.

The mother also claimed that her son is known to friends, family, teachers, and the community by his Chinese name and that they both attend a Buddhist society here.