PUTRAJAYA, Feb 7 — The Court of Appeal today allowed the Perlis Islamic Religious and Malay Customs Council’s (MAIPs) appeal to intervene for the purpose of varying a custody order granted to Hindu mother Loh Siew Hong whose three children were said to have been converted to Islam unilaterally without her consent.
Datuk Has Zanah Mehat, who led the three-judge panel, made the decision based on Order 15, Rule 6(2)(b) of the Rules of Court on the law of intervention read together with Section 96 of the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act.
“A reading of these two provisions would confer upon the applicant a legal right to intervene, premised upon and power pursuant to Section 7 of the Perlis Administration of the Religion of Islam Enactment.
“We will therefore allow the appeal and set aside the order of the High Court dated June 15, 2022 and make no order to cost,” she said of the unanimous decision delivered together with judges Datuk See Mee Chun and Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali on the bench.
Section 96 of the LRA stipulates that the court may at any time vary or rescind any order for the custody or maintenance of a child on the application of any interested person, where it is satisfied that the order was based on any misrepresentation or mistake of fact or where there has been any material change in the circumstances.
Has Zanah also said there was no necessity for the Court of Appeal to dwell on the legality of the three children’s alleged unilateral conversion by Loh’s ex-husband, since a judicial review on the matter is scheduled to be heard at the High Court on March 21.
In today’s hearing, MAIP was represented by lawyer Mohamed Haniff Khatri Abdulla while lawyers A. Srimurugan and Shamsher Singh Thind appeared for Loh.
Earlier in court, Mohamed Haniff argued in that MAIP — as the appellant — has a statutory duty to look after the wellbeing, education and guidance of Muslim converts, as well as offer financial support from tithe funds and religious guidance to converts.
Srimurugan later told reporters that MAIP would now need to file a separate application at the High Court to justify why the custody order in the divorce petition between Loh and her ex-husband should be varied following today’s decision.
MAIPs filed the intervention application on March 7, 2022 to enable the religious authority to have the locus standi (legal standing) to apply for a variation on the terms of the sole custody order granted to the mother.
On June 15 last year, High Court judge Evrol Mariette Peters dismissed MAIPs’ application to intervene in the divorce proceedings after finding that MAIPs had failed to show that it was an interested party in relation to the children.
Peters said the children were not shown to be orphans and they do not belong to the Perlis state community. She added that the children’s connection to the state is “fleeting” as they currently reside in Selangor with their mother.
Loh’s children were taken away from her in 2019 by her ex-husband who has since converted to Islam and then secretly converted the couple’s children in Perlis.
In the divorce petition, Loh had been granted sole custody, care and control over the three children in March 2021.