Appeals Court sets Nov 23 for vernacular schools decision

PUTRAJAYA,  Oct 10: The Court of Appeal has fixed Nov 23 to decide on the appeal by four non-governmental organisations (NGOs) including the Islamic Education Development Council (Mappim), over the issue of vernacular schools and the use of Mandarin and Tamil in the schools involved.

Judge Datuk Supang Lian set the date after hearing a submission from lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla representing Mappim and the Confederation of Malaysian Writers Association (Gapena).

“We need time to consider the submission as this is a matter of public interest. We reserve the judgment for Nov 23,” said Supang who sat with Justices Datuk M. Gunalan and Datuk Azizul Azmi Adnan.

Mappim, Gapena, Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and Ikatan Guru-Guru Muslim Malaysia (I-Guru) are appealing against the decision of the Kuala Lumpur and Kota Bharu High Courts which dismissed their suits in Dec 2021 and May 2022 respectively.

On Dec 29, 2021, High Court judge Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, now a Court of Appeal judge, dismissed the lawsuits brought by the Federation of Peninsular Malay Students (GPMS), Mappim, Gapena and Isma. GPMS did not file an appeal.

Mohd Nazlan ruled that the existence and establishment of vernacular schools and the use of Mandarin and Tamil languages at those schools were constitutional.

In May 29 last year, Kota Bahru High Court judicial commissioner Abazafree Mohd Abbas who is now a High Court judge, also ruled that the existence of vernacular schools was constitutional and dismissed the suit filed by I-Guru.

In the suit filed in Dec 2019, GPMS, Mappim and Gapena and Isma sued several parties including the government. They included Chinese educationist groups Dong Zong and Jiao Zong, Persatuan Thamizhar Malaysia, Persatuan Tamilar Thurunal (Perak).

I-Guru meanwhile, sued the education minister and the government of Malaysia, seeking a declaration that Section 28 and Section 17 of the Education Act 1996 are inconsistent with Article 152 of the Federal Constitution and are therefore void and of no effect

The Malaysia Chinese Language Council, the Malaysia Tamil Neri Kalagam Association, the Confederation of Former Tamil School Pupils, MCA and the United Chinese School Committees Association of Malaysia (Dong Zong) were allowed to become interveners in the suit filed by I-Guru.

Earlier, Mohamed Haniff Khatri in his counterargument said that since education is an official matter, the medium of instruction must be in Malay.

He said the respondent’s lawyer stated that the issue of vernacular schools is subject to Article 12 of the Federal Constitution which provides for the right to education and should be given a liberal definition.

“However, we argue that our friend (respondent’s lawyer) has erred because vernacular schools involve Article 152 and not Article 12 of the Federal Constitution,” he said.

According to the lawyer, Article 12 of the Federal Constitution is related to the absence of discrimination against any Malaysian regardless of race or religion in the acquisition of education and funds from the government or educational institutions.

“Article 12 does not touch on the use of the language as a medium of instruction Therefore, this court cannot be confused by the erroneous suggestion of the respondent’s lawyer who says that Article 12 applies in this case. There is no complaint or request by the appellant to discriminate against those of Indian and Chinese descent,” he said. 

Earlier, Senior Federal Counsel Liew Horng Bin, representing the Minister of Education and the government, argued that the use of other languages ​​as the medium of instruction in vernacular primary schools is not in conflict with the Federal Constitution because the national language is taught as a compulsory subject in the schools involved.