Federalism and Legal Unification in Malaysia
Malaysia exhibits such a high degree of centralization that some scholars argue it may best be classified as a quasi-federation rather than a true federation. The Malaysian Constitution enumerates areas of federal and state legislative competency. Most important areas of law are reserved for federal legislation, though the states of Sabah and Sarwak retain some additional legislative authority due to special conditions on their entry into the Federation. All states may in some cases legislate concurrently with the federal government, but any state legislation that conflicts with federal law is invalid.
The main area of law left to the states is Islamic (syariah) law, which relates primarily to family law, inheritances, and charitable trusts. Syariah law is separated by state into 14 independent jurisdictions. Influenced in part by centrally promulgated model codes, syariah law is relatively uniform across the states. However, some significant differences remain. By contrast, Malaysia has a single uniform court system for federal and state civil (non-religious) law, which also contributes to the civil law’s high level of uniformity.