The problem with the AG’s proposal

Attorney-General Idrus Harun’s proposal to make the Bahasa Malaysia translation of the Federal Constitution the authoritative text was surprising in terms of timeliness.

He has been a fairly quiet AG having made only a few press statements in his position since he was appointed two years ago and it is hard to understand why at the close of his tenure he would make a proposal that would have great significance in the interpretation and application of the constitution.

It is very likely that Azhar would be replaced by the new government. So to make such a proposal now would seem like he wanted to get it started immediately so that subsequent AGs can follow through on it.

There’s nothing wrong with making the BM translation of the Federal Constitution the authoritative text especially since it is stated in the constitution. However, it is a project that requires much study and should be undertaken by experts who know both English and BM to make the translation as accurate as possible to the original. That would require intellectual skills to grasp the breadth and depth of the Federal Constitution and the nuances each law encapsulates.

In the absence of such able experts, the translation might be a watered-down version of the Federal Constitution and would be detrimental to serving justice.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), in expressing its concern over Idrus’ proposal, said it could impact cases where one parent converted his or her child or children to another religion.

It noted that the Federal Court ruled in the M Indira Gandhi case that in Article 12(4), the singular word “parent” included the plural “parents” whereas the BM translation of the Federal Constitution, stated that “The religion of a minor below the age of 18 must be determined by the mother, father or guardian.”

The BM translation thus allows one parent or guardian to determine the religion of the minor whereas the court interpreted the English version of “parent” to include parents, which means both parents must agree to the minor’s conversion.

The issue is still being considered by the courts. It, however, shows how the BM translation did not include the concept of parenthood as a combined responsibility of both parents rather than one parent or guardian and chose to limit the definition to a narrower and literal rendering of the English word “parent”.

The BM translation of Article 12(4) is an example of how a word or words not carefully chosen could create a divergence in interpretation that would affect the lives of citizens seeking redress in the courts.

Any BM translation of the Federal Constitution must eliminate such divergence in interpretation. It’s a mammoth job requiring years of research and study and should not be proposed by an AG who might not last long in his job.


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