Customary law is included in Article 160 of our Consti, and as such, has certain legal implications. In fact, in Sarawak and Sabah, there exists a native court system to enforce such laws. However, in the peninsular, such issues are usually settled in civil court, which has to decide on the existence, proof and validity of such customs.
Now, this troubles me for a number of reasons. Personally, I do not truly subscribe to any custom as I make things up as I go along. It’s hard for me to say that I follow Chinese custom because I generally don’t. I live a hybrid life, absorbing and following various customs and traditions as I go along.
Therefore, it’s rather troubling to me to find that there are certain customary issues that have the force of law in Malaysia and can be settled by the courts. It troubles me because I would not want to get dragged into court for customary disputes since it would be unfair for the courts to try to put me in a box.
This leads me to the larger issue of national integration. In order to feed the customary law system, we would need to continuously divide people along cultural lines. It is necessary to put people into a box in order to be able to enforce customary law e.g. we cannot force Malay customs onto a Chinese family, for instance.
Therefore, it is not something that helps promote national integration unless we choose to do away with all other traditions and customs in return for a single unified national custom, which sort of defeats the purpose of having customs in the first place. Therefore, this system seems to be self limiting and self defeating.
On the other hand, such a system would help the continuance of said customs because they would have to be adhered to. So, for those people who are steeped in traditions or who value such things, our legal system presents a boon to them.