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Impact of Royal Charter of Justice to The Reception of English Law in Malaysia

English law was sanctioned as a source of law in Malaysia in Section 3 and Section 5
of Civil Law Act 1956. The gist of Section 3 is that English law is applied only in the absence
of local statutes on particular subjects. It also stated that only part of the English law which
suits the local circumstances will be applied. English law is bound on these two limitations.
Royal Charter of Justice played a critical role in the reception of English law in Malaysia.
On 25 March 1807, Royal Charter of Justice was introduced in Penang, which was
under the administration of East India Company. It is a very critical event in Malaysian legal
history as it was the stepping stone for the English law to be statute in this country. The
objective of the charter was to protect the locals from oppression and injustice. The
introduction of Royal Charter of Justice marked the establishment of The Court of Judicature
Prince of Wales Island in Penang. The court jurisdiction is only on civil and criminal cases.
In 1826, the 2nd Royal Charter of Justice was introduced which was granted by King
George IV. Its introduction resulted in the establishment of a new Court of Judicature for
Penang, Malacca and Singapore. It was later renamed as Court of Judicature Prince of Wales
Island, Malacca and Singapore. It was applied for Penang and extends to Malacca and
Singapore.
The 3rd Royal Charter of Justice was granted in 1855. Problems in administering
justice were the reason behind its statutory. Its main objective is to restructure the
administration of justice. Before The 3rd Royal Charter of Justice was granted, there was only
1 Recorder handling cases in the Straits Settlements who visited Malacca and Singapore only
twice a year. It became a problem to the administration of justice as it causes the rise in
number of cases waiting to be heard. To overcome this issue, The 3rd Royal Charter of Justice
was granted. It came into effect when 2 Recorders were appointed which are in Penang,

Malacca and Singapore. In Penang, McCausland was appointed as Recorder and assisted by a
Registrar. Maxwell was the Recorder appointed for Malacca and Singapore and he is helped
by a Registrar as well.
The suitability of English law in the Straits Settlements became an issue as the
administration of justice disregarded local circumstances. As stated in Royal Charter of
Justice 1807, it was to be practiced only so far as the religions, manners and customs of the
inhabitants admits. As contrary to the only so far as the religions, manners and customs of
the inhabitants admits, where religious jurisdiction was only exercised when the religions,
customs and manners allow it, British overwrote the local customary law authority with the
English law.
For instance, in the case Goods of Abdullah (1835) Ky Ec8. The facts of the case are
there was a deceased Muslim left a will as he died. However, it was found out by his widower
that the will is invalid by a letter granted by the administration because it is not conformable
to the rules of Mohamed Law. The issue was whether a Muslim may dispose of his entire
property through a will created by him, during his lifetime and what types of law were to be
applied for this particular case. The court held that English law was come into effect in
Penang by the first Royal Charter of Justice. Therefore, a Muslim could give away all of his
property by will as allowed by English law, which contradicts the Muslim law which states
that a Muslim can only devise 1/3 of his property to non-beneficiaries. The Muslim law was
ignored.
As a conclusion, Royal Charter of Justice was one of the stepping stones for English
law to be applied in Malaysia. It has helped the judiciary in evolving it into its modern form.
However, the assurance in the Charter when British overwrote the local customary law
authority with the English law was the downside of it.