Guide last updated by Alice Tyson, April 2022
This guide was created by Helen Gaterell, former Document Supply Services Supervisor at IALS Library.
Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy, consisting of thirteen states: eleven on the Malaysian Peninsular and two (Sabah and Sarawak) on the nearby island of Kalimantan. Both Sabah and Sarawak, as well as two peninsular states (Malacca and Penang) were British colonies, whilst the remaining nine states were hereditary principalities.
In addition to these thirteen states, Malaysia also has three federal territories: Kuala Lumpar, Putrajaya and Labuan. These territories, unlike the other states, are governed directly by the federal government.
Because of colonial influences and the development of different states at different times, the Malaysian legal system is primarily based on English Common law. However, it also recognises and includes native customary laws and provides for Islamic Law in all states except the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpar, Putrajaya and Labuan.
This guide attempts to unpack the country's legal materials and provide a guide to the Malaysian resources at IALS Library.
A detailed chapter on the history of Malaysian law written by Tsun Hang Tey can be found in Law and Legal Institutions of Asia: Traditions, Adaptations and Innovations, E An Black (CUP 2011) (SB5 BLA or available as an e-book from Cambridge Core).
At IALS Library, Malaysian legal materials can be found at classmark GM4. This classmark is then further divided by state:
Straits Settlement (Malacca, Penang, Singapore)
The written Federal Constitution of Malaysia is the supreme law of Malaysia. It establishes the country as a constitutional monarchy with an elected head of state (the Yang di-Pertuan Agong). The constitution is modelled on the British Westminster system of parliamentary government and it organises the three main branches into legislative, executive and judicial authorities.
The constitution came into force in August 1957, the same month that the Federation of Malaya gained its independence. The constitution was significantly amended in 1963 when Sabah, Sarawak and Singapore joined the Federation and modern Malaysia was formed (Singapore left the Federation in 1965, although Sabah and Sarawak remained).
The Constitution of Malaysia 1963 can be found in hard copy at IALS Library at GM4.C.1 AAA.
World Constitutions Illustrated, available on the database HeinOnline, is a reliable source for constitutions, and includes both current and previous versions. The Constitution of Malaysia can be found here, along with consolidated versions and amending laws. HeinOnline is available onsite to academic users and remotely for University of London staff and students with a valid IALS Library card.
Each state also has its own constitution, some of which can be found online on the State Attorney Generals' websites, for instance the Constitution of Sabah.
The Malaysian judiciary is divided into the Superior (appellate) Courts and the Subordinate Courts.
The Superior Courts consist of the Federal Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Court (Malaysia and Sabah & Sarawak).
The Subordinate Courts include the Sessions Court and the Magistrates' Court.
There is a parallel system of state Syariah Courts which has limited jurisdiction over matters of state Islamic (sharia) law.
The Federal Court is the highest court. It has the power to hear appeals from the Court of Appeal, hear original matters and give opinions on any questions by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.
The Court of Appeal has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the High Court in relation to criminal or civil matters.
In the exercise of its original criminal jurisdiction, the High Court has power to hear cases involving the death penalty. In civil cases it has original jurisdiction to hear all cases beyond the Sessions and Magistrates' Courts. The High Court has jurisdiction to hear appeals from the Subordinate Courts in civil and criminal matters.
The Session Court is the highest of the subordinate courts. It has jurisdiction to hear all criminal cases with the exception of those subject to the death penatly. It can try civil cases where claims are less than RM 1,000,000 but more than 100,000.
The Magistrates’ Court deals with minor civil and criminal cases.
The Syariah Courts consist of a Court of Appeal, a High Court and Subordinate Courts. It has some civil and criminal jurisdiction, only applicable to Muslims and usually concerning matters of family law.
Further information on the courts structure and jurisdiction of the courts can be found on the website of the Office of the Chief Registrar, Federal Court of Malaysia.
Primary and secondary legislation is produced both at a federal and state level, with the exceptions of the three federal territories of Kuala Lumpar, Putrajaya and Labuan who do not have state assemblies and are governed directly by the federal government. The Constitution states that a federal law shall prevail over any inconsistent state laws, including sharia laws.
IALS library holds hard copy Malaysian legislation from 1877-1992:
The Laws of the Federated Malay States, 1877-1920 (RES GM4.E.1) and Federal Enactments 1909-1941 (RES GM4.E.2)
The Laws of the Federated Malay States, 1935-1939 (GM4.E.1) and Malaysia Acts, 1946-1992 (GM4.E.2)
More recent legislation can be found online (further information below)
IALS library holds the following in hard copy:
Rules, Orders, Etc., 1909-1939 (RES GM4.E.4)
Subsidiary Legislation, 1947-1992 (GM4.E.4)
Primary and subsiduary federal legislation is published in the Gazette supplement. The Gazette is published in multiple parts, several of which contain legislation. The Acts Supplement contains all acts of parliament as well as all ordinances promulgated by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. Legislative Supplement A (known as PU(A)) contains all Royal Proclamations, orders, rules, regulations and by-laws, whilst the Legislative Supplement B (known as PU(B)) contains all subsidiary legislation other than that which is required to be published in the Legislative Supplement A and generally deals with appointments and notifications. Therefore, researchers may note that there are volumes marked 'A' and 'B' at the GM4.E.4 classmark.
The Federal Legislation Portal is made available by the Attorney-General’s Chambers. It provides all subsidiary legislation [P.U.(A) and P.U.(B)] which are made under federal laws commencing from 26 April 2011 and all legislation (Principal Acts and Amending Acts) passed by Parliament starting from March 2011. The site is available in English or Bahasa Malaysia. Users are reminded that the legislation downloaded and printed from this portal do not constitute copies of the Gazette printed by the Government Printer.
CommonLII contains some selected legislation from 1914-2006 (last updated: 2010).
Lexis+ International is available onsite to academic library members (offsite access is available for IALS students, staff and fellows) and contains the Unannotated Statutes of Malaysia (in English). The Unannotated Statutes of Malaysia includes Principal Acts, Subsiduary Legislations, Pre 1967 Ordinances, Bills and Amendments.
Each of the thirteen Malaysian states has its own state legislative assembly which has the power to enact state laws. (The three federal territories of Kuala Lumpar, Putrajaya and Labuan do not have state assemblies and are governed directly by the federal government). State laws only apply in the particular state and the Constitution states that a federal law shall prevail over any inconsistent state laws, including sharia laws.
Consolidated state laws
IALS has consolidated State Enactments in hard copy from 1959-1974 (at GM4.E.6) and consolidated State Subsidiary Legislation from 1951-1978 (at GM4.E.8).
Malaysia Central provides links to each of the states' government websites, some of which publish state legislation. Those that do are linked below.
IALS also has some, mainly historical, hard copy legislation from each state:
Johore laws: The laws of the state of Johore in force on the 1st day of January, 1935 at RES GM4b.E.1 and A chronological table of Johore enactments: together with appointments, rules and notifications thereunder in force on the 31st December, 1938 at RES GM4b.E.1.
Johore enactments: 1907-1935, 1937-1939 at RES GM4b.E.2 and 1940-1971 (incomplete) at GM4b.E.2.
Johore subsidiary legislation: 1936-1937 at RES GM4b.E.4 and 1965-1971 (incomplete) at GM4b.E.4.
Kedah laws: 1934-1940 at RES GM4c.E.1.
Kedah enactments: 1906-1915 at RES FOL GM4c.E.2, 1916-1943 at RES GM4c.E.2 and 1948-1990 (incomplete) at GM4c.E.2.
Kedah subsidiary legislation: 1926-1935 (incomplete) at RES GM4c.E.4; 1935-1941 at RES FOL GM4c.E.4 and 1942-1991 at GM4c.E.4.
Kelantan enactments: 1904-1912 at RES FOL GM4d.E.2; 1913-1984 (incomplete) at RES GM4d.E.2 and 1986-1990 at GM4d.E.2.
Kelantan Subsidiary legislation: 1927-1984 (incomplete) at RES GM4d.E.4 and 1987-1991 at GM4d.E.4.
Malacca enactments: 1948-1990 (incomplete) at GM4e.E.2.
Malacca legal notices: 1964-1990 (incomplete) at GM4e.E.4.
Negri Sembilan laws: 1883-1902 at RES GM4f.E.1.
Negri Sembilan enactments: 1896-1922 at RES GM4f.E.2 and 1949-1990 (incomplete) at GM4f.E.2.
Negri Sembilan orders and regulations: 1883-1895 at RES GM4f.E.3.
Negri Sembilan rules under enactments: 1903-1909 at RES GM4f.E.4 and 1974-1991 at GM4f.E.4.
Sabah (or North Borneo)
Sabah was known as 'North Borneo' between 1888-1963, during which time it was a protectorate of the United Kingdom and, later, a crown colony. After 1963 it merged with a number of other states to join the Federation of Malaysia as the state of Sabah
IALS library holds a large amount of material for North Borneo in its collection, with proclamations, ordinances and rules in different titles and volumes dating from around 1881-1953 (incomplete) at RES GM4g.E.1 and RES FOL GM4g.E.1.
North Borneo ordinances: 1890-1946 (incomplete) variously at RES FOL GM4g.E.2 and RES GM4g.E.2.
North Borneo subsidiary legislation: 1915-1948 (incomplete) variously at RES FOL GM4g.E.4 and RES GM4g.E.4 and 1951-1956 at GM4g.E.4.
Sabah laws: 1963-1990 at GM4g.E.2.
Sabah subsidiary legislation: 1985 and 1987 at GM4g.E.4.
Laws of Sabah - Sabah LawNet belongs to the Sabah State Attorney-General's Chambers, which includes a database of Sabah Law.
Sabah State Government Gazette website belongs to the State Government Printing Department. The legislation in the website is published every Thursday and is available from the year 2000.
Pahang laws: 1896-1951 (incomplete) at RES GM4h.E.2 and 1974-1990 (incomplete) at GM4h.E.2.
Pahang subsidiary legislation: 1974-1991 (incomplete) at GM4h.E.4.
Penang enactments: 1948-1951 1974-1990 (incomplete) at GM4i.E.2.
Penang subsidiary legislation: 1974-1990 at GM4i.E.4.
Perak laws: 1877-1903 (incomplete) at RES GM4j.E.1.
Perak enactments: 1897-1898 at RES FOL GM4j.E.2 and 1899-1920 at RES GM4j.E.2; 1948-1952 at FOL GM4j.E.2 and 1974-1991 (incomplete) at GM4j.E.2.
Perak subsidiary legislation: 1974-1991 (incomplete) at GM4j.E.4.
Sarawak orders and ordinances: 1936-1957 (incomplete) at RES GM4k.E.2 and 1946-1947 at RES FOL GM4k.E.2; 1958-1991 at GM4k.E.2.
Sarawak subsidiary legislation: 1963-1910 Orders which have not been cancelled: issued by H. H. The Rajah of Sarawak or with his sanction at RES GM4k.E.3.
Sarawak subsidiary legislation: 1947-1958 RES GM4k.E.4 and 1959-1991 (incomplete) at GM4k.E.4.
Sarawak Lawnet is the official Sarawak Government website for Statutes of Sarawak and is provided and maintained by the Sarawak State Attorney-General's Chambers.
Selangor laws: 1877-1899 at RES GM4l.E.1.
Selangor regulations passed in council: 1890-1909 (incomplete) at RES GM4l.E.2; 1949-1951 at RES FOL GM4l.E.2 and 1910-1990 (incomplete) at GM4l.E.2.
Selangor subsidiary legislation: 1974-1991 (incomplete) at GM4l.E.4.
Perlis Laws: 1905-1920 at RES FOL GM4o.E.2, 1921-1954 at RES GM4o.E.2 and 1974-1990 at GM4o.E.2.
Perlis subsidiary legislation: 1934-1938 at RES FOL GM4o.E.2 and 1974-1991 at GM4o.E.4.
Trengganu enactments: 1910-1925 at RES FOL GM4p.E.2; 1926-1951 at RES GM4p.E.2 and 1955 only at GM4p.E.2.
Trengganu subsidiary legislation: 1990-1991 at GM4p.E.4.
Singapore and Straits Settlements
Although a separate country now, Singapore became a Malaysian state between 1963 and 1965. IALS has a substantial amount of Singaporean legislation, which is explained in our Singapore Libguide and is located at GM4m. Historical material from the Straits Settlements is also discussed in the Singapore Libguide, and is located in IALS library at GM4n.
The Malayan Law Journal Reports (FOL GM4.J.1) provides full text reports of cases from the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, and the Malaysian High Court (in all states). IALS library has Vol.1 (1932) - current. It can also be accessed onsite through Lexis+ (via the Law Databases page), along with the Malayan Law Journal Unreported. The Malayan Law Journal Unreported (MLJU) is a series of unreported raw judgments from the Federal Court, Court of Appeal and High Court not found on MLJR. These judgments do not carry headnotes but have been included for online research.
Historical cases can also be found in The Law Reports of the Federated Malay States, which reports on cases from 1906-1941 (available at IALS at RES GM4.G.1) and The Law Reports of the Malayan Union (1946-1947) at RES GM4.G.1.
IALS holds a small number of case reports from individual states:
Johore: The Law Reports of the State of Johore (IALS has 1915-1940) at RES GM4b.G.1
Sabah: Cases on Native Customary Law in Sabah (IALS has 1953-1972) GM4g.G.1 and High Court of North Borneo Law Reports (IALS has 1939 only).
Sarawak: Sarawak, North Borneo and Brunei Supreme Court Reports (IALS has 1928-1963, incomplete) at RES GM4k.G.1 and RES GM4k.G.3.
SCC Online contains full text of the judgments of the Federal Court of Malaysia, Court of Appeal, and selected judgments of the High Court. SCC Online is available onsite and remotely to all academic members.
As well as those cases available on the commercial databases, CommonLII makes available some decisions from the Court of Appeal, the Federal Court and the High Court. CommonLII also publishes some decisions of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak.
The Chief Registrar's Office provides links to the different state court websites, where some selected judgments are available.
IALS holds Mallal's Digest of Malaysian and Singapore Case Law (1808-2006). This multi-volume digest reports on decisions of the Malaysian and Singapore Superior Courts and appeals to the Privy Council. It summarises cases by subject and allows finding of cases on specific issues or topics. IALS's collection provides coverage of law cases from 1808 to 2006, with the 4th edition on the open shelves at FOL GM4.H.3 and superseded volumes at RES FOL GM4.H.3. There is also an accompanying looseleaf, which updates Mallal's Digest: Mallal's Current Law (1997-2006) at FOL GM4.H.3.
The Federated Malay States Digest is a historical digest of reported cases decided by the Supreme Courts of the Federated Malay States, Johore and Kedah from 1907 to 1935 and is available at GM4.H.1.
Halsbury’s Laws of Malaysia published by LexisNexis (which is equivalent to the Halsbury’s Laws of England) provides narration of the law, whereby statements of the law are substantiated by authorities in the form of cases, legislation and rules of court where applicable. Volumes are regularly reissued in order to keep the set up-to-date. IALS has a 'current' set at GM4.H.4 as well as previous volumes at RES GM4.H.4.
IALS Library holds textbooks on a wide range of subjects within Malaysian law. These can be found at the classmark GM4.C and GM4.D. IALS also has access to a number of e-books on Malaysian law, which can be found in the Library Catalogue.
Some materials specific to Syariah Law in Malaysia can also be found at the GM4 classmark, however IALS has a more extensive section on Islamic Law (not specific to Malaysia) at classmark SI5.
Some examples of titles include:
Constituting Religion: Islam, Liberal Rights, and the Malaysian State, Tamir Moustafa, (Cambridge University Press, 2018)
Constitutional Conflicts in Contemporary Malaysia, H.P. Lee, (Oxford University Press, 2017)
Employment Law in Malaysia, Sharifah Suhanah Syed Ahmad, (LexisNexis, 2012)
Banking Law, Pheng, Samen and Detta, (LexisNexis, 2012)
Copyright Law in Malaysia: Cases and Commentary, Ida Madieha bt. Abdul Ghani Azmi, (Sweet & Maxwell, 2012)
Shariah Rulings and Opinions on Ijarah, Musharakah and Mudharabah, ed. by Wan Abdul Rahim Kamil Wan Mohamed Ali, (Sweet & Maxwell, 2012)
Land Law in Malaysia: Cases and Commentary, Teo Keang Sood and Khaw Lake Tee, (LexisNexis, 2012)
Resolving Child Custody Disputes: the Law and Practice in Malaysia, Mehrun Siraj, (LexisNexis, 2012)
Human Rights Law: International, Malaysian and Islamic Perspectives, ed. by Abdul Ghafur Hamid (Sweet & Maxwell, 2012)
The Malayan Law Journal (FOL GM4.J.1) contains articles alongside case reports. IALS holds The Malayan Law Journal vol. 1 (1932) to current. Articles are paginated with Roman numerals to distinguish them from the case reports. From January 2002 onwards, separate 'Article Supplements' have been published on a monthly basis. IALS binds the article supplements at the end of each volume. Some Malayan Law Journal articles are available online on the LexisNexis database as Malayan Law Journal Articles (abbreviated as MLJA or MLJART).
Jernal Undang-Undang / Journal of Malaysian and Comparative Law is published annually by the Faculty of Law at the University of Malaya and is available in hard copy at IALS library GM4.J.6 (vol. 1 1974 - current). An open access archive is available from the University of Malaya Faculty of Law and a small number of volumes (2002, 2004, 2005) are also available on CommonLII.
Survey of Malaysian Law (IALS library, GM4.J.8, 1977-1988) was published annually by faculty staff at University of Malaya's Faculty of Law. It commented on cases and legislation from the years 1977-1988.
The Malaysian Journal of Law and Society (JUUM) (1997 - current) is available online and published twice per year in April and September by the National University of Malaysia Press. Full-text is available from the online archive 2001 - current with some earlier issues also available.
Other journals are available that are published in Singapore and focus more on Singaporean law, but do also discuss Malaysia and other foreign, common law jurisdictions:
Singapore Law Review is Asia's oldest student-run legal publication, managed exclusively by the students of the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Law. This journal ran before Singapore's independence and was called Me Judice (IALS Library has an incomplete collection from 1960-1967 at RES GM4.J.3). The Singapore Law Review is available in print at GM4.J.5 (IALS Library has 1969- current). The journal is also available on HeinOnline.
Singapore Academy of Law Annual Review of Singapore Cases is an annual summary that evaluates decisions of the Singapore courts in the preceding year. Selected cases from other jurisdictions impacting local law are also discussed. It is available on HeinOnline (2000-current).
The Singapore Journal of Legal Studies prints articles on both domestic and international legal developments. It is fully peer reviewed and is managed by its Editorial Committee drawn from the Law Faculty of the National University of Singapore with assistance and advice from eminent legal personalities from other institutions in Singapore and abroad. It is available in print at GM4.J.10 (IALS Library has 1959-current) and some selected open access articles are available on the journal's website. The journal is also available on on Westlaw International Materials (from 2000) and on HeinOnline (1959-2018). It was previously titled University of Malaya Law Review (Vols. 1-3, 1959-1961) then Malaya Law Review (Vols. 4-32, 1962-1990).
In addition to the online resources mentioned elsewhere in this guide, researchers may find information relevant to Malaysian law in the following places.
GlobaLex has Introduction to the Malaysian legal system and sources of law written by Dr. Sharifah Suhanah Syed Ahmad, Associate retired Professor at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya. The guide was published in 2012 (and updated in 2014) on the Globalex website and made freely available by the Hauser Global Law School Program at the New York University School of Law.
CommonLII contains some, often incomplete, materials including: legislation, Court of Appeal cases, Federal Court Cases, High Court of Malaya cases, High Court of Sabah and Sarawak cases, and selected journal articles from the Journal of Malaysian and Comparative Law.
CLJ Law database of Malaysia is an online database offered by Malaysia-based company CLJ Legal Network on a subscription basis. IALS library does not have a subscription. This English-language database aims to provide all Malaysian cases and federal acts. New bills, acts, subsidiary acts and amending acts are listed as they become available.
Eagle-i is a free to use dedicated portal to high quality legal information sources on the web, developed by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies. Select Malaysia from the drop-down list of countries and there are a number of links to reliable online sources.
The award-winning FLAG Foreign Law Guide gives legal researchers details about holdings of foreign, international and comparative law in the UK's academic, national and specialist law libraries.