Malaysian Inns of Court Fellow considers fundamental liberties in multi-religious societies

Monday 21 September 2015

Mr Justice Azahar bin Mohamed, a Malaysian federal court judge, has become the first from his country to be offered an Inns of Court Fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies (IALS), a member of the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. His tenure runs from 9 October to 31 December.

On accepting the fellowship, Justice Azahar bin Mohamed, who studied for his Master of Laws degree at the London School of Economics, said Malaysia’s multicultural and multi-religious society brings ‘obvious challenges and inherent difficulties’. During his time in London he will investigate the impact of parallel legal systems on fundamental liberties in multi-religious societies, inquiring into the jurisdictional conflict in Malaysia and other jurisdictions.

‘Freedom of religion as a fundamental right is guaranteed under the Federal Constitution, which provides for a federal-state separation of legal system between a federal civil law and a state sharia law system. The dual parallel systems of civil courts and sharia courts have resulted in a complicated overlapping web of jurisdictions, and this gives rise to debates of human rights, secularism and the status of Islam in Malaysia’, explained Justice Azahar bin Mohamed.

‘Many issues are involved in this complex and challenging situation, including the legal status of apostasy, the conflict caused by conversion of religion of only one spouse, the effect of change of religion on marriage, and the implementation of Islamic Law. Problematic issues arise where there is a change of personal status into Islam or conversion out of Islam. Over the years, conflicts of jurisdiction between the parallel systems have become more apparent. There is a long list of cases on jurisdictional conflict between civil and sharia courts. What are the solutions? Is harmonisation ever possible under the present dual parallel legal system?’

Jules Winterton, director of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies said: ‘Since 1990 in collaboration with and supported by the Inns of Court, the institute has hosted senior members of the judiciary from many jurisdictions to pursue their research, share their expertise and experience, and take part in the intellectual life of the Inns and the institute. I am delighted to welcome Justice Azahar bin Mohamed as this year’s Inns of Court Judicial Fellow. In a world of increasing mobility, his research interests are relevant and important to all legal systems.’ 

Justice Azahar bin Mohamed’s career spans numerous high-profile positions in the judicial and legal services. He has been a magistrate, sessions court judge, deputy public prosecutor and senior federal counsel. Prior to his current position in Malaysia’s highest court and the country’s final appellate court, which he attained in 2014, he was a court of appeal judge for three years and before that, from 2006 to 2011, a high court judge.
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1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, media and public relations officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 /

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4. Justice Azahar bin Mohamed is a federal court judge of Malaysia. He read law at Malaysia’s University of Malaya, and he holds a master’s degree in law from the London School of Economics. He was elevated as federal court judge in 2014. Prior to his current position, he was the court of appeal judge (2011–14), high court judge (2006–11) and judicial commissioner of the high court (2004–6). He held various positions in the judicial and legal services prior to his appointment to the bench, namely as a magistrate, sessions court judge, deputy public prosecutor and senior federal counsel.