The Malaysian government today failed, for the second time, to nullify a lawsuit seeking automatic citizenship for children born overseas to Malaysian mothers and foreign fathers.
The Court of Appeal this afternoon dismissed an appeal by the government to strike out the suit by six Malaysian mothers and rights group Family Frontiers.
The unanimous decision was delivered by the bench’s chairperson Justice Azizah Nawawi. The other members were Court of Appeal judges Abu Bakar Jais and Mariana Yahya.
This decision means that the suit proper will come up for a full hearing before the High Court in Kuala Lumpur on Aug 24.
The Court of Appeal's decision came after it heard submissions from the legal teams for the government-appellant as well as the respondents, namely the six Malaysian mothers and Family Frontiers.
The Court of Appeal has set today to hear the government’s appeal to strike out the lawsuit.
The government is appealing against the May 6 decision of the High Court to dismiss its application to strike out the suit by the family rights group and the six Malaysian mothers.
The NGO and the six Malaysian mothers are the seven plaintiffs, while the government is the sole defendant in the suit.
In dismissing the striking-out bid with no order to costs, High Court judge Akhtar Tahir ruled that the legal action involves an important issue that is not frivolous as contended by the government.
The judge noted, among others, that the matter involves the issue of discrimination in the country's citizenship laws against Malaysian mothers on which the government needs to give justification during the full hearing of the suit.
Family Frontiers said the May 6 High Court decision was greeted with "a great sense of hope" by hundreds of Malaysian women awaiting citizenship for their children.
“It is very disheartening that the government would attempt to deprive these women of their avenue for justice and to prolong the hardship of the women and their non-citizen children.
“Even as the government continues to question the validity and sincerity of the case filed concerning citizenship laws, thousands of Malaysian women and their non-citizen children continue facing unequal access to fundamental rights each day.
“This is a missed opportunity for the government to rectify this discrimination and make amends to its women who have been negatively impacted for over 60 years by their inability to obtain citizenship for their children on an equal basis as Malaysian men,” the group said.
Through the legal action filed on Dec 18 last year, the seven plaintiffs had sought a court declaration that Malaysian women married to foreign spouses automatically get citizenship for their children born overseas.
This came after the government refused to budge on allowing the children of these mothers to be eligible for citizenship.
During the online Court of Appeal proceedings today, Azizah ruled that it could not be said on the face of it that the lawsuit is unsustainable and thus should be struck out.
She ruled that the suit raises triable issues regarding Articles 8 and 14 of the Federal Constitution.
Article 8 deals with the fundamental right of equality before the law, while Article 14 is on the issue of citizenship by operation of the law.
"Therefore, the appeal is dismissed with no order as to costs," she said in delivering the unanimous verdict.
Senior federal counsel Ahmad Hanir Hambaly @ Arwi represented the government, while counsel Gurdial Singh Nijar, Joshua Andran, and Abraham Au appeared for the Malaysian mothers and Family Frontiers.
Later this afternoon through a media statement, Family Frontiers welcomed the Court of Appeal decision.
“Today, the hurdle has been removed for Malaysian women to finally have the chance to seek justice in our courts,” Chee Yoke Ling, an executive committee member of Family Frontiers, said in the statement.
Chee, who is also a mother impacted by Malaysia's citizenship law, lauded the Court of Appeal decision.
"This is a celebratory decision that will allow the struggles of Malaysian mothers in their children’s citizenship rights to be heard.
"Malaysia remains only one of 25 countries that do not allow women to automatically confer their citizenship on to their children born overseas.
"Recognising and rectifying this discrimination against women in Malaysia’s citizenship laws is a step in the right direction towards gender equality," the NGO said.