Lawyers

High Court misconstrued provision in Societies Act, says lawyer

16 former Umno members contend that RoS’ decision to give Umno an extension of time to hold its election in 2018 was unconstitutional.

PUTRAJAYA: The High Court misconstrued a provision in the Societies Act 1966, resulting in the failure of 16 former Umno members to get leave for judicial review against the Registrar of Societies (RoS), the Federal Court heard today.

Lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla said his clients filed the judicial review application in 2018 to challenge the RoS’ decision in allowing Umno a further extension to conduct its party election.

He said the 16 had also challenged RoS after it refused to give them any explanation when they sought clarification on the extension.

“The High Court, and later the Court of Appeal, misconstrued Section 18C that the provision only applied to RoS and not Umno,” he said in his submission today via a virtual hearing.

Earlier, a five-member bench chaired by Chief Judge of Malaya Azahar Mohamed asked lawyers whether the provision was relevant to the two leave questions posed in this appeal.

The others on the panel were Abdul Rahman Sebli, Hasnah Mohammed Hashim, Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Rhodzariah Bujang.

Section 18C of the Societies Act states that any decision of a political party or any person authorised by it or by its constitution or rules or regulations shall be final and conclusive and cannot be challenged in a court.

Haniff said Umno did not conduct its election as RoS had given an extension which was in breach of clause 10.16 of the party constitution.

Federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, who represented RoS, said the appellant was actually challenging the decision of Umno.

“It is disguised to bypass Section 18C and as a challenge to the extension to conduct the party polls. The 16 are also challenging their sacking for going to court,” he said.

Lawyer Mohd Hafarizam Harun, who represented Umno executive secretary Ab Rauf Yusoh, said the appeal should be dismissed as it was academic.

“The party held its election in June 2018 to elect its office bearers to manage the party,” he said, adding that the 16 had no legal standing since their membership had been terminated.

The appeal hearing was adjourned to a date to be fixed and Azahar instructed parties to make submission on the provision.

The High Court and Court of Appeal dismissed the judicial review as they were bound by the 2013 decision by an apex court.

Then Umno Seri Merpati Pandan Indah branch leader Salihudin Ahmad Khalid and 15 fellow members had sought leave for judicial review against the RoS and Umno on grounds that the party had breached its constitution by delaying its election.

Their membership was terminated on April 21, 2018 for going to court.

The group sought to question Umno’s legality, saying the party should hold elections every three years, and that the leadership could only delay the polls for a period of 18 months.

They said the party election was scheduled to be held by Feb 28, 2018.

However, on Feb 27, 2018, then secretary-general Tengku Adnan Mansor informed the media the election would be held at the latest on April 19, 2018, which was contrary to clause 10.16 of the party constitution.

They said the RoS’ decision, six days after Tengku Adnan’s statement, to allow a further extension pursuant to Section 13A(4) of the Societies Act was tainted with illegality, irrationality and procedural impropriety.

They said this had denied them the right to association while the RoS had refused to give them any explanation when they wrote in for clarification on the extension.

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