The Magistrates’ Courts are established under section 76 SCA 1948. They may be presided by first or second class magistrate. Both classes of magistrates are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong in the federal territories and by the Ruler or Yang di-Pertua Negeri in the states. The first class magistrates are legally qualified and must be members of the Judicial and Legal Service of the Federation. They are appointed on the recommendation of the Chief Judge. Second class magistrates are not legally qualified; they are civil servants and court officials who do magisterial work in addition to their administrative duties.
The Magistrates’ Courts have general jurisdiction to try civil and criminal cases within the local limits of jurisdiction assigned to them, or if no such local limits have been assigned, arising in any part of the local jurisdiction of the respective High Court. In addition, they may issue summons, writs, warrants or other process, and make any interlocutory or interim orders, including orders concerning adjournment, remand and bail. They may also conduct inquests or inquiries of death. The magistrates’ courts also have specific jurisdiction. This depends on the status of the magistrate.
A first class magistrate has original and appellate jurisdiction. For the original jurisdiction on civil matters; under section 90 SCA 1948, a first class magistrate has jurisdiction to try all actions where the amount in dispute or value of the subject-matter does not exceed RM25 000, subject to exceptions set out in section 93(1). That section refers to sections 65(3) and (4), 66-70 and 72-4 (applicable to Sessions Courts) which apply in the same way, with modifications, to the Magistrate’s Courts. The effect is that the first class magistrate may exercise jurisdiction in actions in excess of RM25 000 if both parties agree in writing.
For criminal matters, a first class magistrate may try all offences punishable with up to ten years of imprisonment or with a fine. He or she may also try offences under sections 392 and 457 of the Penal Code. Section 392 concerns robbery and section 457 deals with lurking house trespass or housebreaking by night in order to commit an offence. The maximum punishment for these offences is fourteen years’ imprisonment. The sentencing powers of the first class magistrate are prescribed in section 87 SCA 1948. He or she may pass any sentence allowed by law not exceeding: i)Five years’ imprisonment ii)A fine of RM 10 000 ii)Whipping up to twelve strokes or iv)Any of the above sentences combined If however, the magistrate considers that because of any previous convictions or antecedents of the convicted person, a punishment in excess of that prescribed in section 87(1) is appropriate, the magistrate may award the full punishment allowed by the law, but he or she must record his or her reasons for doing so. The magistrate also award punishment in excess of that prescribed in section 87(1), provided power to do so is given by any law in force. Whipping is usually not ordered unless a person is convicted for a grave offence or is a habitual offender.
In Lee Heng Kooi v Public Prosecutor 1 MLJ 69 (HC), Vincent Ng J. C. held that by virtue of section 40(1) of the Interpretation Act 1967, section 87 clearly confers upon a first class magistrate the power to impose, among others, a sentence of whipping up to twelve strokes. Implicit in this is jurisdiction to try offences which allow for whipping to enable a magistrate to exercise his powers under the SCA 1948. For appellate jurisdiction, a first class magistrate has jurisdiction to hear and determine both civil and criminal appeals from any decision of the Penghulu’s Court, within the local limits of his or her jurisdiction.
The magistrate may dismiss a criminal appeal if he or she considers there is no sufficient ground for interfering. If the appeal is against a conviction, the magistrate may firstly, reverse the finding and sentence, and acquit and discharge the appellant. Secondly, order retrial by a court of competent jurisdiction or alter the finding and make such order he or she deems fit. In an appeal against sentence, the magistrate may reduce or vary, but not enhance the sentence and in an appeal against any other order, alter or reverse the order.