Hierarchy of the Malaysian Judiciary/ Court System:
A comparative study with the United Kingdom
I was born second in a collective amount of 4 siblings. In court hierarchy, I am the Court of Appeal (COA) to the Federal Court of Malaysia or the Supreme Court of England. The world as we know it will be in utter chaos if it were not for the Judiciary. Imagine a court that has to handle all types of cases, big and small, simple and complex, criminal and civil. Until the day a super computer replaces our Honorable Judges, the Court Hierarchy remains an important system in the Judiciary. We have prepared a simple comparative study of both system.
It is common knowledge that Malaysia was a British colony, and that the British had left a legal legacy that is still observed today, like many of our buildings in Dataran Merdeka. Nonetheless, despite all the localisation and modification to the Court System in Malaysia, one cannot help but still see the similarities between the two systems, after all they shared the same genes. In this article, I will attempt to compare the two court hierarchies and I hope that the brief explanation could provide a refreshing read.
The English Court System
At the top of the English Court System, there is the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom. The Supreme Court was established in 2009, replacing the House of Lords. It is the Highest appellate court in the United Kingdom. It is then followed by the Court of Appeal (COA), which as the name suggests, hears appeal. The Civil Division of the COA hears appeals from the High Court and County Court, while its Criminal Division hears appeals from the Crown Court. The High Court functions as a civil court of first instance and also act as the appellate court for subordinate courts. The Crown Court on the other hand, has both original and appellate jurisdiction to hear criminal cases. These are known as the senior courts of England and Wales.
The Malaysian Court System
Like England, Malaysia has its own Apex Court, known as the Federal Court. The Federal Court serves the same function as the Supreme Court of England (or fondly remembered as the House of Lords), in that it is the highest appellate court that can hear appeals of civil and criminal cases. Similar to England, our second Highest Court is the COA. The COA hears appeals of both Criminal and Civil decisions from the High Court. The COA has the final jurisdiction on criminal cases that starts from subordinate court. The only major difference between the Malaysian Superior Court Hierarchy and the Senior Courts Hierarchy of England and Wales is that in Malaysia, we do not have a Crown Court. This is because in Malaysia, our High Court is allowed to hear cases of both Criminal and Civil matters. The High Court also serves as an appellate court for the subordinate courts.
Like a family, the Court’s family tree has a few other branches that is lower in rank. They are known as the Subordinate Courts in both England and Malaysia.
Subordinate Courts In England
The Subordinate Courts in England and Wales consist of the Magistrates’ Court, the Youth Court and the County Courts. For Magistrates’ Court, there are Magistrates sitting in each local justice area and hear only minor criminal cases and certain licensing appeals. The Youth Court functions like the Magistrate Court, except that it exclusively hear cases involving offenders aged between 10 and 17. The County Court has only civil jurisdiction, sitting in different towns and cities.
Subordinate Courts In Malaysia
As for the Malaysian Subordinate Courts, they consist of the Sessions Court and the Magistrates’ Court. The Subordinate Courts has jurisdiction over civil and criminal matters. Our Sessions Court is a derivation of the Quarter Session Court of England, which has been dissolved in England. On the other hand, in Malaysia, there are two classes of Magistrates, namely the First Class and the Second Class. The First Class Magistrates have criminal jurisdiction to try all offences where the punishment does not exceed 10 years’ imprisonment as well as civil jurisdiction to try all actions in civil nature in which the amount of the subject matter does not exceed RM 100,000.00. While the Second Class Magistrate has also criminal and civil jurisdiction to try all offences punishable with imprisonment of not exceeding 12 months and those civil cases where the amount of the subject matter does not exceed RM10,000.00.
All in all, both countries have a rather similar Court Hierarchy that accentuates the historical ties between Malaysia and England. Although Malaysia has in some ways simplified the system, it remains functional and effective. This proves that our legal system has grown and mature throughout our many years of independence and thus all the legal practitioner across the nation should be proud of it.
Eldarius Yong Zhen Jie