The High Court of Malaya and the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak

The superior courts of Malaysia comprise the Federal Court, which is the apex court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court of Malaya and the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak. The two High Courts, which are of co-ordinate jurisdiction, further branch out into “local jurisdictions”. These courts are vested with the original jurisdiction to hear, amongst others, commercial matters. There are statutory rights of appeal to the Court of Appeal and with leave, to the Federal Court.

The Commercial Courts

The Malayan courts have decided cases involving mercantile law since 1807, based largely on Malay custom and Islamic law. English law was introduced progressively from 1826 to 1937 through various parts of the peninsula. Today, most commercial matters are and determined in the Commercial Division of the High Court at Kuala Lumpur by the Commercial Courts.

There are six commercial courts. The judges who have been selected to sit in these courts by the Chief Justice of Malaysia and the Chief Judge of Malaya, have specialist knowledge in the field. The cases falling within the purview of the commercial courts include those relating to commerce and banking, markets and exchanges, maritime, insurance, oil and gas, insolvency, intellectual property and information technology, construction, competition, Islamic banking and commercial disputes as well as the recognition and enforcement of arbitration awards.

There is further specialisation within these six commercial courts. The specialist courts comprise the admiralty court, the construction court, the intellectual property court and the muamalat court, the latter dealing solely with Islamic commercial transactions.

A managing judge, who reports to the Chief Judge of Malaya and the Chief Justice of Malaysia, oversees the Commercial Courts. The Commercial Courts are situated in Kuala Lumpur. Commercial matters, although to a lesser extent, are also heard and dealt with in other parts of Malaysia where the High Courts enjoy local jurisdiction[1].

Case management, which is largely undertaken by the judges, is a central feature that enhances the performance of these courts. Issues are identified and modified at the outset. Preliminary and interim measures are determined by way of interlocutory applications so as to reduce trial time. Witnesses are pared down and court annexed mediation is employed to enhance resolution of these disputes. Judicial time and costs are reduced not to mention a greater efficiency in terms of disposal.

The performance of the Commercial Courts is facilitated by the use of information technology in the form of the “e-Court System”[2] which incorporates amongst other functions, e-filing which digitalises the filing of all documents in the commercial courts. It also serves as a search and retrieval tool, essential for case management. The court recording and transcript system has reduced the time taken for trials and enhanced the quality of proceedings by eradicating the need for note taking. These tools complement the objective of completing less complex cases within a period of nine months (although more complex matters are afforded more time).

[1] The High Court of Malaya has ten other branches while the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak has seven branches as well as circuit sitting.

[2] The e-Court system comprises the e-filing system, the case management system, the queue management system, the court recording and transcript system, the video conferencing