Brunei Darussalam is a peaceful country, and our people enjoy living in a harmonious environment. This has been the hallmark of our 30 years of independence and has led to stability and prosperity, as well as peace of mind for foreign investors. It is His Majesty’s wish that Brunei Darussalam be pro-business, and great improvements have been made with the coordinated efforts of all sectors in ensuring that businesses can be established faster and more efficiently.
The legal infrastructure in Brunei Darussalam has also undergone numerous changes in recent years. Diversification of the economy is key for the government of His Majesty, and our legal framework is conducive to attracting domestic and international investors. An example is the recent change to the administration and management of intellectual property, which, while intangible, is still an important asset for all businesses.
The introduction of the Sharia Penal Code Order 2013 is a significant development for Brunei Darussalam’s legal system. The paramount objective of criminal justice law is to render justice in accordance with the due process of the law. For a long time both the civil courts and religious courts have had jurisdiction over criminal offences. With the gradual implementation of the Sharia Penal Code, the jurisdiction of sharia courts has been expanded to include offences that were previously within the jurisdiction of civil criminal courts, such as murder, rape and theft. However, it is pertinent to note that the civil courts still retain jurisdiction over those offences; therefore the perception that the penal code has been repealed is inaccurate.
His Majesty The Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan’s vision is for the country to have a unique criminal justice system that cannot be found in any other country, where both the existing penal code and the Sharia Penal Code will be in force. Given the fact that Brunei Darussalam is an Islamic country with a majority Muslim population, such a step can be seen as a natural development of the legal system without undermining the current legal system based on English common law. In other words, the introduction of the new penal code is an evolution rather than a revolution.
Under the Sharia Penal Code, sharia courts will have jurisdiction over offences relating to the Islamic religion such as consuming intoxicating drinks, failure to pay zakat (alms) or disrespect of Ramadan. In cases where both the sharia and civil courts have concurrent jurisdiction, such as murder, only the provisions of the sharia law will be applied if the stringent evidentiary conditions required by Islamic law are fulfilled; otherwise the existing penal code will continue to apply. Initial assessment will be made by the public prosecutor to determine the appropriate court so that a person will not be tried twice for the same offence.
No doubt there will be implementation challenges. In order for the changes to succeed the agencies involved should have adequate knowledge, discipline, integrity and training, as well as the appropriate infrastructure, to carry out the tasks at hand. A five-year plan until 2017 is in place to strengthen the sharia courts. Extensive dissemination programmes to explain the Sharia Penal Code have been organised for government ministries and departments, the private sector, schools, foreign embassies and foreign nationals.
What is important to bear in mind is that in whichever court a case is heard, the requirement that every case be subjected to the judicial process and due process of the law will continue. The cardinal principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty will continue.
Law-abiding visitors who wish to enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of our country or are keen to do business and invest in our safe and peaceful environment are most welcome and have nothing to fear. It is perhaps still too early to measure the impact of the Sharia Penal Code, but once people understand its objective the Sultanate will continue to maintain economic development and social stability. With sound legislation on investment and a conducive operating environment we are confident that the implementation of this new law will not hinder investment in Brunei Darussalam.
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