PUTRAJAYA: The government, Higher Education Minister and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM) were given the nod by the Federal Court here on Tuesday to appeal against the landmark decision of declaring unconstitutional, Section 15(5)(a) of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) 1971.
Section 15(5) of the Act restricts students from expressing in support of, or opposing, any political party.
Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Md Raus Shariff chairing a five-man panel, in a unanimous decision, allowed the application brought by the government, Higher Education Minister and UKM for leave to appeal against the Appeals Court landmark decision delivered on Oct 31 last year, declaring that the section was unconstitutional.
The court allowed one legal question posed by the applicants to be decided in their appeal.
The question is whether Section 15(5)(a) of the UUCA is consistent with Article 10 (1)(a) read with Article 10(2)(a) of the Federal Constitution and therefore a valid law.
Article 10(1)(a) guarantees citizens the right to freedom of speech and expression, while Article 10(2)(a) states that the right is not absolute by allowing Parliament to impose restrictions, if necessary, in the interest of national security, friendly relations with other countries, public order or morality designed to protect the privileges of Parliament or of any Legislative Assembly or to provide against contempt of court, defamation or incitement to any offence.
Muhammad Hilman Idham, Woon King Chai, Muhammad Ismail Aminuddin and Azlin Shafina Mohamad Adza, who were then UKM students, were given notices by the university to appear before a disciplinary tribunal to answer charges of allegedly being present during campaigning for the Hulu Selangor parliamentary by-election on April 24, 2010, thereby breaching Section 15 (5)(a) of the Act.
They subsequently filed an originating summons against the applicants to challenge UKM's action against them but their claim was dismissed by the Kuala Lumpur Appellate and Special Powers Division in September 2010.
The Appeals Court then overturned the High Court's decision in a 2-1 majority decision which led to the applicants filing leave to appeal to the Federal Court.
The Appeals Court had ruled that Section 15(5)(a) of the Act was unreasonable and violated freedom of speech guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.
Earlier, the Federal Court panel rejected a preliminary objection raised by counsel Malik Imtiaz Sarwar representing the four, that the matter was academic because the four had been cleared during the disciplinary proceedings and had since graduated.
He said the government also intended to amend the Act, following the Court of Appeal's decision.
Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin had said on Dec 6 last year that it was hoped that the amendment to the UUCA could be tabled in Parliament in March this year.
Senior federal counsel Amarjeet Singh argued that the matter was not academic because of the existence of the Appeals Court's judgment that had declared Section 15(5)(a) unconstitutional.
"The applicants are seriously affected by the decision. The matter involves questions in the public law domain and not merely private law," he said.
Amarjeet said the matter was of utmost public interest and importance and that it affected not only the universities and their students, but was also of importance to the general public.
Lawyer Datuk Seri Muhammad Shafee Abdullah representing UKM, said the issues raised were of substance, adding that the Appeals Court's decision on Section 15(5)(a) not only bound UKM but 17 other universities. - BernamaSource: The STAR Home News Nation Tuesday March 20, 2012 MYT 6:12:00 PM