The Magistrates’ Courts have jurisdiction to hear both criminal and civil cases. Magistrates are entrusted with the job of regulating many aspects of social life, ranging from keeping the peace (hence the other term for magistrate – Justice of the Peace or JP) to dealing with those accused of breaking the criminal law. Civil A First Class Magistrate has the jurisdiction to hear all actions and suits of a civil nature where the amount in dispute or value of the subject matter does not exceed RM25,000. 00 (section 90 of the Subordinate Courts Act 1948).
Civil Jurisdiction * A Magistrate’s Court has civil jurisdiction (within its territorial limit): * in all personal suits including counter-claims and set-offs arising in both tort and contract, where the value of the claim does not exceed $2000 (Principal Magistrate), $1000 (First Class Magistrate) or $200 (Second Class Magistrate); Other civil jurisdiction The magistrates court has a specific role to play in the enforcement and recovery of council tax payments – the tax paid to local councils by residents in that area.
A variety of orders can be made to establish liability and to enforce an order, including attachment of earnings (compelling an employer to deduct the ordered payment from an employees wages) and imprisonment for wilful refusal to pay. Other powers Magistrates perform important functions before defendants ever appear in court. People can appear in court direct from police custody – where they have been arrested and go to court before being released. However, many cases begin by the court issuing a summons, a court order compelling the person it is addressed to to appear before the court on a specified day.
To issue a summons the person complaining of the offence or other grievance must go before magistrate agrees, the summons will be issued. The court can also issue warrants – for arrest, removal to a place of safety, search of premises and seizure of property. If, for example, a person does not attend court – breaching their bail or failing to answer the summons – the court can issue a warrant for that person’s arrest. He or she will then be brought to court as soon as they can be found. The police carry out this job.
If the police wish to detain a person for questioning beyond 36 hours they must get an order from the magistrates court authorising this. Reasons for continued detention must be given. As Justices of the Peace magistrates have an ancient power to keep public order, and to this end they can impose orders on individuals to keep the peace (known as a bind over). This can be imposed regardless of whether a person is convicted of any crime. Magistrates are also authorised to sign certain documents, for example statutory declarations and passport applications.