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Government in Brunei


Brunei is an absolute monarchy, whereby the Sultan of Brunei is both head of state and head of government. Under Brunei's 1959 constitution, His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah, is the head of state with full executive authority, including emergency powers since 1962. The Sultan's role is enshrined in the national philosophy known as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), or Malay Islamic Monarchy. The country has been under hypothetical martial law since a rebellion occurred in the early 1960s and was put down by British troops from Singapore.

The Sultan is assisted and advised by five councils, which he appoints. A Council of Ministers, or cabinet, which currently consists of nine members (including the Sultan himself), assists in the administration of the government.

Under the 1959 constitution there was an elected Legislative Council, or Majlis Masyuarat Negeri, but only one election has ever been held, in 1962. Soon after that election, the assembly was dissolved following the declaration of a state of emergency, which saw the banning of the Brunei People's Party. In 1970 the Council was changed to an appointed body by decree of the Sultan. The Legislative Council currently consists of 20 appointed members, and has only consultative powers.

As for the judiciary, Brunei has a dual legal system. The first is the system inherited from the British, similar to the ones found in India, Malaysia and Singapore. It is based on the English Common Law, but with codification of a significant part of it. The Common Law legal system covers most of the laws in Brunei. The structure of the Common Law Courts in Brunei starts with the Magistracy. There are currently less than 10 magistrates for the country, all of whom are locals. A rung above the Magistracy is the Intermediate Courts. This was set up to be a training ground for the local. There are currently two intermediate court judges, both are locals.

The High Court currently consist of three judges, two of whom are locals. There is no jury system in Brunei and a judge or magistrate sits alone to hear a case except for capital punishment cases where two high court judges will sit. The Court of Appeal consists of three judges, all of whom are currently retired British judges. The Court of Appeal sits twice a year for about a month each time. Appeals to the Privy Council in criminal cases are no longer available, whilst still retaining a very limited right of appeal to the Privy Council in civil cases.

The other system of justice in Brunei is the Shariah Courts. It deals mainly in Muslim divorce and matters ancillary to a Muslim divorce in its civil jurisdiction and in the offences of khalwat (close proximity) and zina (illicit sex) amongst Muslim. The Syariah Court structure is similar to the Common Law Court structure except that it has no Intermediate Court and that the Court of Appeal is the final court of appeal. All magistrates and judges both in the Common Law Courts and the Shariah Courts are appointed by the government. All local magistrates and judges were appointed from the civil service with none thus far being appointed from the private practice.

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