At the time of writing, it’s our 63rd Hari Merdeka. We were curious to know what the first court case after Merdeka was, and so we did some research. While it’s difficult to tell which exactly was the very first case, we found some that were heard in court just a few days after 31st August 1957.
In this article, we’re going to be looking at the events that took place in the case of Narayani Amma v Mohamed Din—a case that was recorded on 6th September 1957. It was heard in the Kuala Lumpur High Court, which in case you didn’t know, isn’t the same KL High Court that we have today.
But before we get into the story, let’s take a quick look at what the legal system was like then, and how it all came to be in the first place.
Our courts existed well before Merdeka
As some of you already know, Malaysia’s legal system is largely based on English law, as we used to be ruled by them pre-Merdeka. But we didn’t get our laws only after independence, because many laws that we have today were already enacted during the colonial rule. In fact, some of the oldest cases in Malaya, as it was known then, can be traced to the early 1800s.
While the laws may have been different then, the system pretty much worked in the same way it does now. We had different levels of courts, and even different types of courts, just like we do now.
But whatever changes that happened didn’t just suddenly happen overnight after Merdeka. For a period after independence, many English judges still heard cases in our courts, and sometimes they had to refer to UK law if Malayan law couldn’t provide them with an answer. The case of Narayani Amma, which we’re looking at today, is one such case. So here’s what happened...
A man died from being knocked over by a British war department vehicle
The case involved a man who worked for the Central Electricity Board (CEB)—basically Tenaga Nasional Berhad today. One day, he was knocked over by a United Kingdom War Department vehicle which was driven by a local man named Mohamed Din. The victim, whose name was not disclosed in the judgment, died from the injuries. His wife, Narayani Amma was allowed to claim compensation over his death from the CEB. To get the compensation, she had to submit a document to the company. The document said:
“I wish to claim for compensation under the Workmen's Compensation Ordinance.
In the event, I or on my behalf the employer takes civil action against the owner of the vehicle for damages, I undertake to indemnify the employer i.e.. I agree to refund the amount paid to me by the employer.
The other dependents also will undertake to refund the amount in the event the claim is successful.”
In other words, it said that if she received compensation from her husband’s employer, she or the employer could not sue the owner of the vehicle that killed him. If she did, she would need to return the compensation given by the employer. And this didn’t just apply to her, but also to whoever else received the compensation (eg. their children).
So the document above didn’t allow her to sue the owner of the vehicle and get compensation from them. But interestingly, the ‘owner’ was actually the Queen of England, as it was a war department vehicle. Narayani Amma obviously could not sue the Queen. But now, she had taken Mohamed Din, the driver, to court to get more compensation for injuring her husband. So the court now had to decide: could Narayani Amma get compensation from the husband’s company AND the driver who hit him?
The court awarded his wife $12,250
As you can already tell, this was a complicated case with complicated laws in question. The court decided that they needed to look at the facts of the case on the whole, before making a fair decision. The court looked at the case of Oliver v Nautilus Steam Shipping Co Ltd , which had similar facts to the case:
- the employee had injured himself while working
- the company gave him some small amounts of money as compensation
- he later sued the third party responsible for the injury
- the court allowed him to sue this third party, as he accepted the ‘compensation’ given by the company with the idea that he would not lose his legal right to sue whoever was responsible for the injury
The judge in Narayani Amma’s case said that the compensation money she received had to be seen the same way it was in Oliver’s case. They had to take her circumstances into consideration, and that they decided that the compensation she received did not fall under the Workmen’s Compensation Ordinance. Because of that, she could not be barred from claiming compensation from Mohamed Din. So while she did produce a document agreeing to not sue a third party, based on the circumstances of her case, it was unfair to impose that on her.
The judge asked that the following amounts be paid to her:
Her husband’s mother: $750
Her first son: $1,000.00
Her second son: $2,000.00
Her third son: $4,000.00
She was also given an extra amount of $100 and another $150 for funeral expenses. All in, this came up to $12,250. If you’re wondering why the currency here is ‘$’ and not ‘RM’, it’s because the ringgit was only introduced in 1967.
We’re not sure if this case was ever appealed, but these are all the records on it that we found. And here’s another interesting fact: this law still exists today. Section 20 of the Workmen’s Compensation Act 1952 says that a double compensation in the case of an injury is not allowed. But as we learned today, what the court decides really depends on the facts of each case.