03/22/2011, 00.00
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Christian woman lawyer told she cannot represent people before Malaysia’s Islamic courts

The lawyer will appeal to a higher court after an initial rejection of her application for a permit to practice before Shari’a courts. Malaysia has a dual, secular-religious, legal system.
Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A Christian woman lawyer in Malaysia was unsuccessful in her bid to obtain a permit to practice law before Shari’a courts. Victoria Jayaseele Martin said she wanted to represent non-Muslims. Malaysia has a dual legal system, a secular system for non-Muslim Malaysians and a religious one for Muslims, who constitute the country’s majority.

Ms Jayaseele Martin objected to a decision by a religious council to bar non-Muslim lawyers from Shari’a courts, but a judge in Kuala Lumpur rejected her claim. She said however that she would appeal to a higher court to argue that the ruling against her was unconstitutional.

Victoria Jayaseele Martin’s lawyer, Ranjit Singh, said that it is hard to find Muslim lawyers willing to represent non-Muslims before Islamic counts because they usually do not like to take cases that might run counter to their faith.

Increasingly, there are cross-faith cases in which one spouse converts to Islam, whilst the other remains faithful to his or her religion. The Islamic legal system focuses on family law, frequently tackling issues such as divorce, polygamy and custody battles.

Last year, the Malaysian government agreed to appoint women judges to its Islamic courts for the first time, something a group called the Sisters in Islam had been demanding for many years.

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