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Accessibility of Law in Commonwealth Countries in Southeast Asia: From Mlaysia, Singapore and Brunai Perspectives

Accessibility of Law in Commonwealth Countries in Southeast Asia: From Mlaysia, Singapore and Brunai Perspectives

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Published by: Shaikh Mohamed Noordin on Jan 29, 2009
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07/20/2009

 
Accessibility of Law in Commonwealth Countries in SoutheastAsia: From Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei Perspectives
By Shaikh Mohamed Noordin
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Introduction
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are among the most economically advanced countries inSoutheast Asia. Incidentally, they are also the only three Commonwealth countries in this region.Law includes legislative and judicial rulings produced by law-making bodies with a duty to produceand promulgate law. It includes primary sources of law, such as legislation and case law
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.In the world over, more often than not, free public access to law has become an increasinglysignificant indicator of national development. Investors seeking future investment possibilities arelikely to equate inaccessibility to information to incompetence or lack of development in thepotential investment country, or even worse, that a proper legal framework and transparency insuch countries are not in place, which may spell disaster for a developing country keen to attractforeign investment. It is the main intention of this article to assist researchers to identify thedifferent types of law, legal information and where such information may be found in these threecountries, as well as to suggest relevant links to other free-access international legal portals.Electronic-law resources in these jurisdictions began to be accessible in the 90s when the firstcommercial legal information provider, LawNet of Singapore was introduced in 1990 followed bythe CLJ Legal Network of Malaysia in 1997. The advent of new information technology has indeedfacilitated accessibility to state–produced legislation, court judgments and other legal informationfreely via the Internet. Such free dissemination of national laws on the Internet not only benefitslocal users, but also allows worldwide accessibility to such national laws.
Legal System
Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei share similar characteristics in their legal system, which is basedon the English common law, and a legacy of British colonial rule. Due to close proximity andvarious cultural similarities in legal and historical background, the laws in these countries are oftencross-referenced and expanded within these jurisdictions. The current laws in these countries arelargely founded on their respective constitutions, in their primary legislation, subsidiary legislationand also judge-made law. The laws in these jurisdictions originated and were enacted in threedifferent eras, i.e. laws promulgated pre-war, post-war and post-independence, and some stillremain in force today. Although the legal systems of Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei arepredominantly based on English common law, there are also other secondary legal systemsconcurrently affecting certain sections of the laws in these countries, such as Islamic law andcustomary law.As common law countries, the doctrine of precedent in judicial decisions is very much applied,although reliance on common law in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei is declining since almost allareas of law are now legislated by statute. Occasionally, such legislation may still need clarificationand interpretation by the court as to its application and constitutionality. Hence, judicial decisions
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 The author is an active professional member of the Librarians Association of Malaysia (PPM) and was the firstChairman of the Committee for the Malaysian Law Librarian Group of the Association. He is the only Malaysian professional member of American Association of Law Librarians (AALL). He has many years experience inlibrarianship and, as Managing Librarian with Messrs Tay & Partners in Kuala Lumpur,is responsible for all libraryfunctions including acquisitions, collection, development, monitoring firm’s website and publications and overalllibrary and information services. He has contributed several other articles for publication in other journals.
 
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Declaration on Free Access to Law - URL:
http://www.worldlii.org/worldlii/declaration/sydney_en.html 
 
that are based on
 
precedent will still continue to play a role as an important source of law in thesecountries.Sources of law in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei are abundant and set out in a document-intensive system. New materials (especially case law) are published daily and are constantlygrowing. Traditionally, government gazettes are still regarded as authoritative texts. These areprinted in hard copies as official documents for dissemination to the public at minimal cost. Judicialdecisions on the other hand, are published in several series of law reports, which are notcommonly known and are not easily accessible to the public.
Location of law in Public Domains
Advances in information technology has revolutionised accessibility to electronic-based lawresources and reduced the dependency on paper-based publications in many countries. More andmore law-making institutions such as the Parliament, the court and the executive are hosting lawresources on their respective websites. However, the main obstacle faced is that there is still nocentralized body to consolidate all these law resources as a one-stop centre for effective publicaccess compared to legal information institutions established in Australia, USA, Canada, UnitedKingdom and other countries.The coverage of law in these official domains also varies between institution-to-institution and fromcountry-to-country. There are two common limitations which can be discerned. Firstly; most of thelaws available on such official websites are current law, promulgated post-independence.Secondly, the statutes presented in these official domains are mostly of the principal statute, as itwas originally enacted and in a non-consolidated form, except where released in the reprintedversion. Subsequent amendments of the law may be available in a separate text. It may be quitedifficult at times to determine whether a legislative text is current, accurate and complete whenreferring to these principal texts alone. The same goes for judicial decisions. Normally, only raw judgments are provided on public websites without any editorial features such as headnotes andother annotations. This certainly does not assist researchers in finding out more about the case,for example, whether the case was further appealed.Other than on the websites of the three law-making institutions in these countries where law isofficially made accessible to the public freely i.e. on (i) the Attorney General’s Chambers’ website,(where legislation and some judicial decisions may be accessed); (ii) the Parliament’s website for accessing Bills and Acts of Parliament; and (iii) the Court’s websites for accessing court rules and judgments, there are some ministries, statutory agencies, Bar associations or Law societies andlocal governments which may also include their relevant law and regulations on their respectivewebsites. To access these websites, one may either choose to access them through legal portals,hosted locally or internationally, or one may access them directly from the websites of law-makinginstitutions in these jurisdictions. Although not designed for sophisticated or exhaustive researchcompared to the service provided by commercial legal resource providers, these free-access sitesare still the best alternative for law resources. Let’s take a closer look at some of the importantdomains with such resources in each of these countries. Only domains which contain free accessto law are mentioned here and some may link to other websites which may prove useful for other legal research purposes.
 
Malaysia
Malaysia was the first country in the region to be colonized by the British when Penang was cededin 1786. She was the first to become a Commonwealth state after gaining independence in 1957.Malaysia is the largest among the three Commonwealth countries in this region and is the only oneamong them with a dual government system, i.e. with a main Federal government and stategovernments for each of the thirteen states. The current Federal law of Malaysia is more readilyaccessible compared to state law which is hosted only on a limited number of local governmentand state agency domains.Malaysian law has become increasingly influenced by Australian law. The obvious example is inland law, which has moved away from the English conveyancing system towards the Australianregistration based system. Increasingly, Australian law is also influencing principles in companylaw given that English company law is currently driven by developments in Europe due to theEuropean Union. Since 2000, the preamble in the Acts of Parliament of Malaysia is styled after theAustralian Acts. Public access to law resources in Malaysia is improving, although most of suchresources are yet to be organized to encourage ease of reference, especially within governmentwebsites where some of these laws are available only in Malay. The best way to locate these lawresources is by reference to their promulgating body and tracking the law resource through thewebsites of these promulgating bodies.
Judicial Sources
Malaysian Court Website
– URL: http://www.kehakiman.gov.my/Contains information about the Malaysian judiciary system, profiles of members of the judiciary,court legislation, latest judgments of the Court of Appeal and the Federal Court and court circularsand practice directions. 
Sabah Law Courts
– URL: http://www.kotakinabaluhighcourt.com/Judgments specially produced by the High Court in Sabah whereupon judgments by the KotaKinabalu, Sandakan and Tawau courts can be obtained from this website. 
Legislative Sources
The Parliament of Malaysia – Search Act –
URL: http://www.parlimen.gov.my/eng-index.phpThe Malaysian Parliament website offers the largest numbers of full text of Acts of Parliamentsenacted since 1990 in pdf format. The only obstacle to find the Acts of Parliament from thiswebsite is that, you must know the name to enable you to extract it as the Acts are not arranged inalphabetical order. The Acts are currently available only up to the year 2000. The Bills on the other hand, are quite current.
Attorney General’s Chambers of Malaysia – Laws of Malaysia / Table of Laws
URL:http://www.agc.gov.my/agc/e-AGC/TLaw/TL.htmThis website is a good starting point to find the Acts of Parliament of Malaysia, particularly for newand revision Acts that have been promulgated after 1-1-1969, also known as ‘Laws of Malaysia’series of Acts through its index in numerical and alphabetical order.
Malaysian Civil Service Links (MCSL) – Laws and Acts of Parliament
URL:http://mcsl.mampu.gov.my/english/laws_acts.htm>The link allows one to check list of legislation of each of the Ministries. Some of the Acts can alsobe assessed in full text.

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