His Majesty delivering his 'titah' during the MUIB meeting. (BT)
"What else are we waiting for?" His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, posed the question with regard to the establishment of Islamic Criminal Law during a meeting with the Brunei Islamic Religious Council (MUIB), Syariah officials and the Attorney General's Chambers Monday.
His Majesty the Sultan was joined in the meeting by His Royal Highness Prince Haji Al-Muhtadee Billah, the Crown Prince and Senior Minister at the Prime Minister's Office.
In His Majesty's titah, the monarch urged the authorities to not delay, with Brunei now having the resources at its disposal.
"We have the (Syariah) court building, in its grandeur, intellectuals and experts are also in abundance, and the country is independent, what more are we waiting for?" quizzed His Majesty. He added that Syariah judges are also available, headed by the Syarie Chief Judge all well qualified, compared to the era of the 1950s and 60s when Pehin Khatibs were also utilised as stand-in Syarie judges or as aides to Syarie judges.
His Majesty highlighted that he had raised the issue of establishing Syariah courts to the highest level, to shoulder the responsibility of not only administering family law, but also at the appropriate time to introduce the Islamic Criminal Act during His Majesty's 50th Birthday Celebrations in 1996.
"At that point in time people's focus was on the appropriate time (to implement), and there were all kinds of timeframes that were mentioned, there were some that said 10 years, others eight years," said His Majesty.
The monarch was critical of how much time had elapsed and more so of excuses made to delay or put off the Syariah Law initiatives.
"Fifteen years has since passed, and there are still some that would say, 'we are not ready, we are still unable to' and 'there is still much to do' and that our preparations would require another eight or five years and so on," stressed His Majesty.
"After that (five to eight years) there will be others who will immediately say we require a further five to eight years. If that is the case, when will the additional timeframes mentioned end?" asked His Majesty.
His Majesty pressed further and questioned how Brunei sees itself in the context of progress in the field of Islamic Law. "Do we still see ourselves as if we are in the era of the 50s or the 60s? Have we forgotten that we have borrowed the expertise of law from abroad for a long time? How long? Twenty years (to be exact), Couldn't we have in that time, concluded the establishment of one act of Islamic law," he said.
"I am certain that if we wanted to implement the laws of Allah (SWT), it is not impossible to be carried out," he said. His Majesty advised that if Brunei is not able to do so, "then carry out what we are able to do so in a gradual manner", with cases that can be heard in the Syariah courts.
His Majesty used the example of cases of individuals caught drinking alcoholic beverages. "Those who are caught drinking alcohol or drinks that intoxicate, if there is enough evidence why not carry out the law of God, if there is not enough evidence or something that prevents a Syariah ruling then the case can be linked to the original case and judged with takzir," he said.
Takzir is a system under Syariah laws used for sentencing which is dependant on the discretion of the judges alone; unlike the six crimes which fall under Hudud laws: theft, illicit sexual relations, making unproven accusations of illicit sex, drinking intoxicants, apostasy and highway robbery.
His Majesty gave a mandate for all relevant agencies to work together as a collective in order to realize the introduction of Islamic Criminal Law. "The cooperation is required in all aspects, from legislation to judiciary aspects," His Majesty said.
His Majesty also advised that cases should be evaluated in order for them to be tried in the appropriate court.
"A panel of evaluators which are manned by the right authorities, the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Attorney General, MUIB and so on, the meaning of cooperation in this regard requires representatives from the civil courts also and an act for the evaluation panel can be drafted by the Attorney General's Chambers.
"To simplify it, both the Civil Courts and the Syariah Court can run parallel without affecting one or the other, this is the uniqueness of Brunei, may Allah (SWT) bless us with peace, prosperity and justice," said His Majesty.