The Race Relations Act and what it entails

Recently, no doubt due to the turmulous turn of events within Malaysia, some of which involve ethnicity, a Race Relations Act had been proposed. The justification? Relations between different ethnic groups had deteriorated to an alarming rate, and despite there being a plethora of powerful legislation at the Government’s disposal (the Sedition Act 1948 and the Internal Security Act 1960 among them) there has yet to be enacted law to govern how conduct between different races should be held.

This proposal had, as reported today, been accepted by the Cabinet. Syed Hamid Syed Albar, Malaysia’s Home Minister, was quoted as saying in that report that the proposed Act would include, among other things, touch on race relations through the economic, education and distribution systems, as well as what he termed “provisions on punative action” using the Federal Constitution as the guideline. Britain, he further elaborated, had the Act for many years, and that the British Act would be used as a reference, along with other European laws, in the drafting of the Act. Given that it seems that Malaysia will have such legislation, we of Reading Law feel it only appropriate to do our patriotic duty, and enlighten kindred souls on what exactly such an Act would encapsulate, using of course the British version of the legislation as our guideline, as well.

Britain’s Race Relations Act 1976 is a restatement of earlier Acts passed in 1965 and 1968. The long title of the Act states that it is “An Act to make fresh provision with respect to discrimination on racial grounds and relations between people of different racial groups…” and sure enough a cursory glance through the Act as it is divided into Parts deal with discrimination. Discrimination in the course of employment, in the carrying out of trade, in education, etc. Basically the key word here is discrimination, based upon race, and by virtue of Amentment Regulations of 2003, upon religious grounds as well. Syed Hamid had said that the Federal Constitution would be used as a guide, and in this light, regard is likely to be made to Article 8’s protection of equality before the law. Considering special provisions for the protection of the native Malay population enshirined in Article 153 of the Constitution, it is likely that the Act would contain a number of exceptions, for example, in the field of Malay Reservation Enactments of the States of West Malaysia, as well as institutional safeguards enacted persuant to the said Article, for example, the University Teknologi MARA Act.

The British Race Relations Act also established the Commission for Racial Equity (now the Commission for Equity and Human Rights) whose duty it was to ensure that discrimination on the basis of race was kept to a bare minimum, however it is unlikely that the enactment of such an Act here in Malaysia would result in the creation of a similar Commission.

In any event, it is crucial to note that this Act does not contain any “punative provisions” as envisaged by Syed Hamid, at least, not of the sort that supporters of this Act in Malaysia are likely to want to see, given the controversy that first led to the suggestion of this Act (no link given, do your own research to find out what, hint: google “Ahmad Ismail”) and for such provisions it is submitted that the authorities might find inspiration from a seperate UK statute, namely the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006, which amended the Public Order Act 1986 of the UK to introduce a Part within the Act dealing with incitement to hate towards persons of particular race and religion. Indeed the subject matter of this latter Act is most apt to deal with any utterances of ill will that target individuals or groups based on their ethnicity, so the Government might want to consider enacting this Act as well, or even instead.

(Postscript: Britain’s Race Relations Act 1976 has been repealed following the introduction of a new comprehensive law on equality, the Equality Act 2010. – 19/5/2010)