The judicial powers of the country are exercised by the subordinate courts, the High Courts and the Federal Court, organized in a hierarchy with the subordinate courts at the lower level and the superior courts (comprising the High Courts, the Court of Appeal and Federal Court) at the higher level. At the apex of the hierarchy is the Federal Court, which has been in existence since 1 January 1985. It is the final appeal court in Malaysia replacing the former Supreme Court. It is headed by the Lord President.
Below the Federal Court are the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Malaya (for West Malaysia). Both the courts have co-ordinate jurisdiction. Each of these courts is headed by a Chief Justice. Below the High Courts are the Sessions Courts. Each of these courts is presided over by a sessions court judge. On the same hierarchy as the Sessions Court is the Juvenile court, which is a special court, which deals with juvenile offenders. This court presided over by a first class magistrate. Below the Sessions Courts are the Magistrates Courts, which are presided over by a Magistrate.
In West Malaysia, below the Magistrates Courts are the Penghulu Courts. These courts are presided by Penghulus who have very limited jurisdiction within a ‘mukim’ or administrative district. The Penghulu usually informally settles a local dispute. In practice the courts hardly function. In addition to the above structures of the courts at the federal level, there are also courts at the state level. These comprise the Syariah Courts (dealing with Muslim Law) and the Native Courts of Sabah and Sarawak.
The Superior court of Malaysia comprises two high courts that are High Court of Malaya and the High Court in Sabah and Sarawak, Court of Appeal and Federal Court. Each of the two High Courts (Malaya and Sabah and Sarawak) is headed by a Chief Justice. In Malaysia there are fifty-six judicial commissioners and judges of whom forty-five in Peninsular Malaysia and eleven in Sabah and Sarawak. The jurisdiction of the High Court is original, appellate and supervisory. In the implement of its original jurisdiction, it possesses unlimited criminal and civil powers.
In the other words, there is no upper limit. The High Court exercise unlimited criminal jurisdiction to try all civil proceedings within the local jurisdiction of the court. It can try any criminal case irrespective of the gravity and any civil case regardless of value although in respect of the latter, in most instances, it hears matters, which cannot be determined in the subordinates courts. In the exercise of its appellate jurisdiction, The High Court has the power to hear appeals from the subordinate courts. However not all decisions of the subordinate courts are appealable to the High Court.
No appeal shall lie to the High Court from a decision of a subordinate court in any civil cause or matter where the amount in dispute or the value of the subject matter is ten thousand ringgit or less except where it involves a question of law. The Court of Appeal was first introduced in the hierarchical structure of courts in Malaysia in 1994. Establishment seeks to create additional channels for appeal cases heard by the High Court and also to reduce the burden on the Federal Court to hear appeal cases brought before it.
According to the Federal Constitution , the jurisdiction is to decide cases of appeal against the High Court and such other jurisdiction as may be granted or under federal law. In the case of Dalip Bhagwan Singh (supra), the court has ruled that the Court of Appeal in Malaysia are generally bound by all of its own decision unless there are certain exceptions as provided in the case of Young v Bristol Aeroplane (1994) which allows the Court of Appeal to depart from Malaysia own earlier decisions. The Federal Court is the highest judicial authority in Malaysia.
It is established under Article 121 (2) of the Federal Constitution. The decision binding on all courts. The general jurisdiction may be classed as appellate, original, referral and advisory. Appellate works to hear civil and criminal appeals from decisions of a High Court. This appellate jurisdiction occupies the bulk of the Courts work as high as 90 to 95 per cent of its work. In criminal cases, an appeal may be made by the Public Prosecutor against acquittal. In civil appeals, it has jurisdiction, whether it is made in the exercise of its original or its appellate jurisdiction (S.67(1).
However several constraints are imposed by Section 68 of the Courts of Judicature Act. Appeals to the Federal Court are by way of hearing and it has all the powers and duties of the High Court. The Federal Court has exclusive jurisdiction to determine any question whether a law made by Parliament or the State is invalid on the grounds that the body makes provision in respect of a matter which Parliament or the Legislative Assembly as the case may be no power to make law and disputes on any other question between States or between the Federation and any State.
The referral jurisdiction of the Federal Court is provided for in Article 128(2) of the Federal Constitution which reads “Without prejudice to any jurisdiction of the Federal Court appeal, if in any proceedings before another court a question arises about the effect of any provision of this Constitution, the Federal Court has jurisdiction (subject to any rules of court regulating the conduct of field power) to decide the question and remit the case to another court to be disposed of in accordance with that decision”.
The advisory is to give its opinion on any questions referred to it by His Majesty concerning the effect of any provision of the Constitution, which has arisen or appears likely to arise. The advisory jurisdiction of the Federal Court is provided for in Article 130 of the Federal Constitution which reads Yang di-Pertuan Agong may refer to the Federal Court for its opinion any question as to the effect of any provision of this Constitution which has arisen or appears likely to arise, and the Federal Court shall pronounce its opinion on any question so referred to it in open court.