I thank The Council of Justices of the Peace Sabah (MAJAPS) and Sabah Law Association (SLA) for inviting me to officiate this MAJAPS-SLA Joint Seminar 2017. I am all for learning, improving and widening knowledge that would also benefit the public. I note topics for the Seminar are very relevant, and that we have with us speakers  from Australia and our very own state.  I am sure we will learn much from them and benefit from the Seminar.


MAJAPS has over the years raised some concerns and I wish to address some of these here.  One is the importance of recognizing the attestation and certification by Justices of Peace (JPs) in Sabah on official government documents of Federal Ministries, departments and agencies, such as the Road Transport Department and the Commercial Vehicle Licensing Board. I believe this came about because of the different powers of JPs in Peninsula Malaysia and Sabah.  In Peninsula Malaysia, powers of JPs are confined to certification of documents, whereas in Sabah, JPs can certify documents as well as attest or witness the signatory of the person signing before the JP. I can get my office to send out a circular to the various Federal Ministries and agencies for them to be in the know and to accept the powers of JPs in Sabah as provided under the laws in order not to create inconvenience to members of the public dealing with these departments.  


Another concern brought before me is in relation to the appointment of JPs in Sabah, who are appointed by the  Sabah Governor. MAJAPs wants to ensure that some strict criteria are met, for example, candidates who have at least a minimum standard of literacy and educational background, no criminal record and, have contributed to society. This is to uphold the dignity of the office of JPs by discharging their duties effectively and efficiently in accordance with the law in force. MAJAPS has proposed its views are considered in selecting candidates and for all JPs to mandatorily become members of this Council. The State Government will look into this request.


The next concern of MAJAPS is to allow suitable JPs in Sabah to become Second Class Magistrates to preside over cases of traffic and minor offences, to assist in remote areas/villages in Sabah where Magistrates are limited or where there are none. I must congratulate MAJAPS for extending your services in the Mobile Courts to bring the Courts nearer to the people for logistics and cost reasons. Due to the remoteness of certain areas where the presence of Magistrates and Commissioner for Oaths or even lawyers are rare, the services of JPs in assisting with the attestation of documents in the registration of births, the reporting of crimes and the presence of illegal immigrants are much needed and welcomed.   


When Circuit Courts are not in session, the Police depend on District Officers and Assistant District Officers to sit as Second Class Magistrates to issue remand orders. However, there are times when they are busy that the Police have no choice but to take the arrested persons to another district. Under the law such a move is wrong because Magistrates' Courts have district limited territorial jurisdiction. This means a person arrested in Sipitang should not be brought to Beaufort to appear before the District Officer there as it is in another district. I would very much like to see the services of legally qualified JPs be maximized for the benefit of remote interiors and to assist in presiding minor traffic and municipal offences as well as to hear remand cases as Second Class Magistrates where there are no resident Magistrates and where the District and Assistant Officers are unable to attend speedily to them. I understand JPs are willing to render their services voluntarily.  MAJAPS is of the view that the Sabah State Government can gazette, through the powers of the State Governor, legally qualified JPs to be appointed as Second Class Magistrates in order to assist the Courts to clear backlog of Court cases. I shall look diligently into this.


To reduce burden on the courts, mediation to settle disputes is encouraged in the Courts in Sabah and Sarawak as an alternative in resolving disputes filed.  JPs can be trained as mediators to assist in resolving cases over disputes over land and moveable properties as well as accident claims filed with the courts in Sabah. JPs could also be appointed as Native Court clerks to assist in the management of the daily running of the Native Courts and to guide the Native Chiefs on laws.  I will certainly ask the State Attorney General to look into proposals from MAJAPS for JPs to play a more effective role.  


On a another matter of interest, I wish to share that the Sabah State Government has embarked on the path of raising Sabah’s rights within the framework of the law by the formation of the Committee for Revision of  State  Rights under the Malaysian Agreement 1963 chaired by the Minister for Special Tasks Datuk Teo Chee Kang. The Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak was attentive to the issues raised during the meeting with the Sabah State Cabinet during his recent visit to Sabah on the restoration of state rights and devolution of powers. This is proven by the Prime Minister’s announcement of the exemption of Sabah and Sarawak from the Sabah Cabotage Policy starting 1st June 2017. This exemption actually puts both states back to pre-Malaysia status quo in line with the Inter Governmental Report (IGC) as far as shipping and navigation are concerned. 


In a similar vein, I note that the Sabah Law Association has been instrumental in enhancing autonomy for lawyers in Sabah by tirelessly campaigning for amendments to the Advocates Ordinance with the Federal Attorney General Chambers to create, among others, a statutory body for lawyers in Sabah. As a result of years of engagement with the Federal Attorney General Chambers, the Advocates Ordinance (Sabah) Amendment Act 2016 was gazetted on 30th March 2017 and is expected to come into force in July this year. A significant amendment to the Ordinance includes the creation of a new statutory body named the “Sabah Law Society” (SLS) with mandatory membership for all lawyers in Sabah and this will enable a better representation and regulation of the legal fraternity. It is material to record that the creation of a statutory body is in accordance with the constitutional safeguard as stated in the Inter Governmental Report.


I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the SLA for their commitment to the Steering Committee for the Review of Subsidiary Title and Management Corporation which seeks to revamp the land development process. As you would have read recently, proposed developments involving the conversion of land from say Native Title to Country Lease will require approval for the conversion before the Development Plan can be approved. The intention is for the reduction in time for the issuance of strata titles to within one year from the date of the Certificate of Fitness for Occupation (OC). The Steering Committee will now be looking into fresh legislation for high rise buildings and in particular the management corporation formed to maintain such buildings. Another notable contribution is the “Land Dealings Electronic Submission System Version 2.1” known as LADESS 2.1 together with the Lands and Surveys Department. This system will streamline and expedite the system of land registration in Sabah.


I am pleased to see two strong bodies -- MAJAPS and the SLA collaborate on this event which is relevant to not only JPs and lawyers but also other professionals, law makers, government officers and the general public.  I hope to see more of such events that help create awareness about legal rights and issues. In support of your good work, the Sabah Government is giving MAJAPS and SLA RM50,000 each to assist you in your administration and to further your work.


Keep up the good work and I wish you all every success in all your undertakings and endeavours, and also a very productive seminar to all present here today.

I now officially declare open the MAJAPS-SLA Seminar 2017. Thank you.