Native Law as One of The Sources of Law in Sabah Legal System

  • Rafidah@Malissa Binti Salleh Universiti Teknologi MARA, Sabah Branch, Kota Kinabalu Campus, Sabah, Malaysia
Keywords: customs, native law, source of law, legal system, legal pluralism


Native law is one of the sources of law recognised by the Federal Constitution in Malaysia. In Sabah1, one of the states in East Malaysia, native law received its formal recognition from the British government in 1888. It continues to exist until today, governing matters involving the natives of Sabah. The law is administered by the native court, presided by the native chiefs. This paper discusses the evolution of native law in the State of Sabah since colonial times and analyses the development of customary law as one of the sources of law in the Malaysian legal system. The analysis includes a discussion on the validity of customs and the position of native law in the Sabah legal system.


Download data is not yet available.


Abdulkadir Owolabi A., Akanbi M.M., Abdulkadir B.A., Sambo O.A., Imam-Tamim M.K. Rethinking On Dilution Of Custom With Religion: An Exposition Of The Nigerian And Malaysian Legal. Retrieved from on 03.08.2020.

AJ Harding, Legal pluralism and the constitutional position of East Malaysia's indigenous peoples: The view from the longhouse, book chapter in G Bell and V Taylor (ed), Pluralism, Transnationalism and Culture in Asian Law: A Book in Honour of M.B. Hooker, Singapore, ISEAS, late 2015.

Akolokwu, O. G., & Raji, A. B. (2018). Property rights of married women under customary law in Nigeria: myth or reality 1 lns(a) xxxv. Retrieved from on 01.08.2020

Bederman, J. D. (2010). Custom as a source of law (p. 3). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Borrows, J. (2005). 'Indigenous legal traditions in Canada'. Journal of Law & Policy, 19:167, p. 175.

Chan, J. (2015, June 9). Sabahans Want Stripper Tourists Charged In Native Court. The Malay Mail Online. Retrieved From Https://Sg.News.Yahoo.Com/Sabahans-Want-Stripper-Tourists-Charged-Native-Court-110200638.Html.
Chiba, M. (2007). Custom and Law. In David S. Clark (ed.), In Encyclopedia of Law & Society: American and Global Perspectives. Retrieved from on 10.07.2020

Curzon, B. L. (2010). Dictionary of Law (6th ed., p.115). Petaling Jaya: International Law Book Services.

Danny Wong Tze Ken. (2009). "Wooley and the codification of native customs in Sabah". New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies, 11(6), 187-105.

Doherty Michele, Jurisprudence: The Philosophy of Law, 2nd edi., Old Bairy Press, London, p.g. 233.

Egwummuo, J. N. Principles and practice of land law (p. 139). Academic Publishing Company.

Gindok @Ginduk, J (2018) Mahkamah Anak Negeri Satu Transformasi (p.69) Kota Kinabalu: Jabatan Cetak Kerajaan Sabah, Malaysia

Halsbury's Laws of Malaysia -- Land (Volume 10(1) (2017)) retrieved from$PSEUDOXAB,A,H,$PSEUDOLOSK,A,H&startDocNo=1&resultsUrlKey=29_T28924203478&cisb=22_T28924203477&treeMax=true&treeWidth=0&csi=347238&docNo=

Hamzah, W. A. (2009). A First Look at the Malaysian Legal System (p.104-107.) Selangor Darul Ehsan: Oxford.

Holden, S. L. (2003). Custom and law practices in Central India: Some case studies South Asia research, 23(2), 115–134,034681. Retrieved from

Hornby, S. A. (1994). Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary (p. 294). Oxford: University Press.

Khan, H. U. (2012). Jurisprudence and Comparative Legal Theory, Dhaka: Ain Prokashan at p. 169

Kazi. F, Savigny's Theory of Volkgeist retrieved from

on 15.01.2020

Lakshman Marasinghe,' Customary Law as an Aspect of Legal Pluralism, with Particular Reference to British Colonial Africa", JMCL, 25 (1998): 19-20

Mani, B. N. (1999). Jurisprudence (Legal Theory), Faridabad: Allahabad Law Agency, at p. 165

Medha P M, Legal Pluralism retrieved from

Nadia Fadhila, Constitutionalising Legal Pluralism and the Rights of Indigenous People in South East Asia Explaining the Constitutional Entrenchment of Indigenous People's Customary Law in Malaysia and Indonesia, Constitutionalism in South East Asia

Owoniyi v. Omotosho F.S.C.249/1960; LN-e-LR/1961/75 (FSC) 15TH JUNE, 1961.

Phelan, R. P. Native Law in Sabah. In Syed Ahmad Idid bin Syed Abdullah Idid (Ed.) (1993) Native Court and Customary Law of Sabah (with Cases and Decisions) (p. 87). Kota Kinabalu: Sabah Government Printer.

Phelan, R. P. (2003) The traditional legal system of Sabah (p.7). Kota Kinabalu: Pusat Kajian Borneo.

Knaup, K. (1970-1971). Native family law in Sabah: As study of customary law within a common law state. Saints Louis University Law Journal, 15,257.

Rai, N. Basic concept of Savigny's Volkgeist. Retrieved from on 01.03.2021

R.J.Wilkinsom. (1970). Malay law (p. 9). In MB Hooker (Ed.), Reading & adat laws.Singapore University Press.

Strouthes, D. P. (2002). "Customary Law" from Encyclopedia of crime and punishment. SAGE Publications. Retrieved from

TN Harper (2001). The End of Empire and the Making of Malaya. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, p. 2

Vidyadhar, M. (1987). Jurisprudence & legal theory (5th ed., p. 255). Lucknow: India, Eastern Book Company.

Watsons, I. (2008). Aboriginal women's laws and lives. How might we keep growing the law?,In Elliot Johnston, Martin Hinton and Daryle Rigney (Eds.),Indigenous Australians and the law (2nd ed). Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge-Cavendish.
How to Cite
Salleh, R. (2021) “Native Law as One of The Sources of Law in Sabah Legal System”, Malaysian Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities (MJSSH), 6(11), pp. 399 - 412. doi: 10.47405/mjssh.v6i11.1138.