1. In April 2017, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) released a consultation paper on the proposed amendments to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA).
2. 3 members of our firm , Ahmad Nizam Abbas, Ahmad Khalis Abdul Ghani and Liyana Sinwan , were part of the Law Society’s Muslim Law Practice Committee who submitted a feedback paper on the proposed amendments .
3. At the second reading of the Bill, prior to the passing of the AMLA (Amendment) Bill, the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim acknowledged some of the ideas and suggestions received from various sources through the public consultation which had been incorporated after the first Draft. The Minister highlighted that the purpose behind the amendments were in the following 3 broad areas :
- to strengthen Muslim families
- to reinforce the Muslim institutions
- to enhance the management of Muslim assets
4. In this brief paper, we outline some of the amendments which have been adopted and which were or would be implemented in 3 main phases- 1 October 2017, 1 January 2018 and 1 April 2018.
Greater support for Minor Couples
5. Section 94A introduces mandatory participation in a marriage preparation programme for prescribed groups. It has since been announced in Parliament on 8 March 2018 that the first prescribed group will be Muslim minor couples. Parents’ involvement in the programme will be highly encouraged.
6. Under section 94B, parental consent will be required for a minor marriage. This is an addition to the current requirement where only the consent of the wali, the lawful guardian for the guardian for the marriage of a Muslim woman, is required.
Greater support for Divorcing couples
7. Under section 46A, the Syariah Court is empowered to ensure that couples who seek a divorce must first attend its flagship Marriage Counselling Programme (MCP). The new sections 43A and 43B seek to enable the Syariah Court to refer parties for further counselling or a family support programme at any stage of their divorce proceedings.
8. The Syariah Court can now refer Muslim couples with children below 21 years old living in a HDB flat to the HDB to make informed and sustainable decisions on housing post-divorce.
9. The Syariah Court can now refer parents who have at least one child aged between 6 to 15 years old to PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre to participate in PPIS’ “Children-in-Between” programme when necessary. The As-Salaam Support Centre is one of the four Divorce Support Specialist Agencies supported by MSF, and this programme equips parents with co-parenting skills to help reduce parental conflicts and thus minimise the impact of divorce on children.
10. Divorcing Muslim couples with children up to 21 years old are now required to attend a free 2-hour post-divorce consultation session before the collection of their divorce certificates. This one-time consultation session provided at the Syariah Court is known as “Parenting PACT”.
Enhancing the Syariah Court
11. An added requirement to section 35 is that at least one of the parties must be domiciled or habitually residing in Singapore for at least 3 years preceding any application. Previously, the Syariah Court had jurisdiction over a divorce so long as parties were both Muslims and married under Muslim law.
12. The Syariah Court can now appoint a Child Representative, where necessary, to represent the interests of a child.
Management of Wakaf
13. A key section which has been amended is section 58. Firstly, new grounds for the removal of a Trustee of Mutawalli have been added to section 58, providing greater clarity and transparency as well as to allow more timely interventions by MUIS on the management of wakaf in Singapore. The amended section 58 also states that any appointment of a new trustee to a wakaf will be void unless MUIS’ prior approval in writing has been obtained.
14. Section 58 further specifies that a court must not entertain or proceed with any proceedings relating to the appointment or removal of wakaf trustees and mutawallis. This is consistent with a High Court decision in 2016 which held that the High Court does not have jurisdiction over wakafs, and that the power to remove or appoint trustees lies solely with MUIS, as provided for by AMLA.
15. The amendments mentioned here is merely a selection to give a flavour of the different aspects of the AMLA. In his speech on 1 August 2017, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim assured the community that the Ministry would continue to monitor 2 areas – (1) inheritance and (2) jurisdiction of the Syariah Court in cases where Singaporean Muslim parties had obtained divorce overseas but with unresolved ancillary issues here.
16. For lawyers, the main impact of the AMLA amendments is likely to be those which affect divorces. Now that the 2017 AMLA Amendments have come into force, we await the announcement to the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Rules (MMDR) as these will put into the place the changes on the ground to the way divorce proceedings are conducted.
If you have any queries pertaining to this article, please feel free to contact Mr Ahmad Nizam at email@example.com, Mr Ahmad Khalis at firstname.lastname@example.org, Ms Liyana Sinwan at email@example.com or the Straits Law Director who usually attends to your matters.