Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth
- Consultation Period:
- 13 Aug 2021 - 10 Sep 2021
The Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth (MCCY) invites the public to give feedback on the draft Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill. The consultation period for the draft Bill will be from 13 August to 10 September 2021.
2. The Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), which has been in force since 1968, provides for the establishment of Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (Muis), the Syariah Court (SYC) and the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM), and the administration of mosques and wakafs (charitable endowment). It was last amended in 2017 to reinforce Muslim institutions, enhance management of Muslim assets and introduce measures to strengthen Muslim families.
SCOPE OF THE CONSULTATION
3. For this round of amendments to AMLA, MCCY is proposing amendments to AMLA in four areas:
a. Enable SYC and ROMM to use digital processes for court administration and solemnizations;
b. Update and streamline the administration of Muslim marriages and divorces;
c. Regularise the collection of fees by Muis for the provision of services under its statutory functions; and
d. Update the administrative provisions relating to Muis.
A. Enable SYC and ROMM to use digital processes for court administration and solemnizations
4. A key impetus for this round of amendments is to allow the implementation of digital processes for court administration and solemnizations at the SYC and ROMM respectively. This will allow them to leverage technology to streamline their services to provide better and more convenient access to citizens. These amendments will also build greater resilience in the delivery of these services, and better deal with disruptive situations such as COVID-19.
Introduction of SYC’s new digital capabilities
5. SYC will be implementing a new IT system by April 2022. The new IT system will introduce digital capabilities such as electronic filing, electronic payments, issuing electronic court documents, and a fully electronic case management system that is accessible by parties/lawyers via a front-end user portal. The proposed amendments to AMLA will enable SYC to adopt these new digital processes, which will reduce processing time and improve convenience for parties using SYC’s services, as well as facilitate collaboration between SYC, government agencies and community partners.1
SYC and ROMM to conduct proceedings via remote communications
6. To allow for business continuity amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary provisions were made to allow SYC and ROMM to conduct court proceedings and marriage solemnizations remotely.2 The proposed amendments will make these provisions permanent, allowing SYC, ROMM and the Muis Appeal Board3 to continue to use remote communication technology to deliver its services.
B. Update and streamline the administration of Muslim marriages and divorces
Improve the hakam process
7. Under Muslim law, a Muslim couple may appoint a set of hakam to guide the couple towards reconciliation or, if that is not possible, other amicable resolutions to the union. This may include a divorce, if the hakam has the husband’s authority to pronounce a divorce. In a small percentage of cases, the husband may withhold his authority to allow the hakam to pronounce a divorce even where reconciliation is not possible. In these cases, the law requires the SYC to appoint a second set of hakam to resolve the impasse, and make its recommendation directly to the SYC. The second set of hakam derives its authority from the Court and can thus proceed even if one party withholds its authority, however, it will require the parties to go through the process with the hakam again, often to the detriment of the parties and their families as it prolongs the process.
8. The proposed amendments improve the process by allowing the SYC to give authorisation to the original set of hakam to pronounce a divorce, should the husband refuse to authorise the hakam to pronounce a divorce in the first instance. The appointed hakam must still endeavour to obtain the authority from the husband to pronounce a divorce. However, if such authority is not obtained, the hakam will have the Court’s authority to pronounce a divorce if the hakam is satisfied that there is a state of irreconcilable differences that results in hardship to the wife, and the SYC accepts the hakam’s recommendation. This does away with the need for a second set of hakam to undertake another round of arbitration process where reconciliation is not possible, merely because the husband refused to authorise the first set of hakam to pronounce a divorce.
Restrict access to the Register of Muslim Marriages
9. Currently, AMLA permits any person to access personal data in the Register of Muslim Marriages (“Register”) upon payment of the prescribed fee. The proposed amendments to AMLA will better safeguard personal data by restricting access to the Register only to parties to the marriage, persons applying on behalf of either party, or family members, if the Registrar considers there is good reason to do so.
Decouple the registration of a divorce from the payment of fees
10. AMLA currently provides that the registration of divorce takes place upon “payment of the prescribed fees”.4 This has created a loophole where the registration of a divorce can be delayed by the plaintiff-husband who, having pronounced 3-talak or 3rd talak5 out-of-court, disagrees with the Court’s decision to validate the irrevocable divorce. The proposed amendments to AMLA will delink the requirement to pay divorce registration fees from the Court’s power to order the registration of the divorce.
C. Regularise the collection of fees by Muis for the provision of services under its statutory functions
11. Muis has been collecting fees for (a) food verification (FV) and ritual cleansing (RC) services sought in the context of halal certification since 1992 and (b) application fees for the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) since it became mandatory for employment in Muslim religious schools in 2017. These fees are imposed for cost recovery. Although the law allows statutory boards to collect fees for the performance of statutory functions, these must be prescribed in legislation. The proposed amendments will regularise Muis’ collection of these fees and legislatively validate past collections by prescribing these fees in the Act.
D. Update the administrative provisions relating to Muis
Allow Mufti to give evidence on false doctrines directly to the Court
12. Section 139 of AMLA makes it a criminal offence to teach or publicly expound any doctrine or perform any ceremony or act relating to the Muslim religion in any manner contrary to the Muslim law. Section 139(2) creates a statutory presumption such that the Court may presume that a doctrine, ceremony or act is indeed contrary to Muslim law where the President of the Majlis gives evidence so. The proposed amendment to section 139(2) is to enable the Mufti (rather than the President of the Majlis) to provide evidence directly to the Court on whether a doctrine, ceremony or act is contrary to Muslim law.This is because the Mufti is the highest Muslim religious authority in Singapore and chairs the Fatwa Committee, which issues all religious rulings, including those on doctrines, ceremonies or acts that are contrary to Muslim law.
Update of the term “jawatankuasa daerah”
13. Section 86 of AMLA provides Muis with the powers to enact rules to appoint a jawantankuasa daerah, a district committee, which shall be responsible for the conduct and order of mosques and Muslim burial grounds within its administrative territory, and to provide Muis with information pertaining to the mosque. “Jawantankuasa daerah” is a term that is no longer in use. Today, mosques are governed by a Mosque Management Board. The proposed amendments will remove the reference to jawantankuasa daerah and enable Muis to enact rules governing these Mosque Management Boards.
SUMMARY OF PROPOSED AMENDMENTS
14. In summary, the proposed amendments to AMLA are as follows:
a. Allow the implementation of the Syariah Court (SYC)’s new electronic case management and filing system;
b. Allow SYC and the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) to conduct proceedings via remote communications, as set out in the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act and the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures for Solemnization and Registration of Marriages) Act, on a permanent basis;
c. Improve the hakam process.
d. Restrict access to the Register of Muslim Marriages;
e. Decouple the registration of a divorce from the payment of fees;
f. Regularise and legislatively validate fees collected by Muis for (i) the provision of food verification and ritual cleansing services and (ii) application fees for the ARS;
g. Allow Mufti to give evidence on false doctrines directly to the Court; and
h. Update the term “jawatankuasa daerah”.
GUIDELINE FOR SUBMISSION OF COMMENTS
15. We request that all interested parties submit their comments to the draft Bill using the prescribed template below through email to email@example.com, with the subject “Public Consultation for Administration of Muslim Law (Amendment) Bill”. All submissions should be sent no later than 10 September 2021, 6.00pm.
16. Respondents are also requested to follow these guidelines:
a. Please indicate your name and the organisation you represent (if any) as well as contact details (email address and/or telephone number) within the template to enable us to follow up with you to clarify any points, if necessary;
b. Be precise and concise in your comments; and
c. Focus the comments on potential operational/implementation issues, legal clarity and/or workability, or language and structure of the draft Bill.
17. All comments received during the consultation will be reviewed and some provisions may be further refined based on feedback received during this consultation. We will publish a summary of the main comments received on the REACH website, together with our responses, after this consultation exercise closes. Please be assured that the identities of the respondents will not be disclosed in the summary.
1Governmental partners include the Family Justice Courts, MSF, Insolvency and Public Trustee’s Office and the Legal Aid Bureau. Community partners include 10 counselling agencies involved in the Marriage Counselling Programme and the Law Society of Singapore.
2Namely, the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 for SYC, and the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures for Solemnization and Registration of Marriages) Act 2020 for ROMM.
3The Muis Appeal Board hears appeals against decisions of SYC, the Kadi or Naib Kadi of ROMM. These may include issues relating to custody of minor children, disposition or division of the matrimonial property on divorce.
4The current fee to register a divorce is $100, as set out in subsidiary legislation (namely, the Third Schedule to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Rules). It is usually the plaintiff who is ordered to make payment, on the basis that he/she is the applicant for the divorce registration to be made.
5Under Muslim law, if the husband utters this Arabic term for divorce three times, the couple would be automatically and irrevocably divorced.