Friday, 31 August 2012

Malayan Independence and the Malayan constitution

Today, the 31st of August, marks the anniversary of the independence of the Federation of Malaya (now Malaysia) in 1957.

Marking this anniversary today we focus on one of our archive collections, ICS125 the papers of Sir Ivor Jennings.

Sir Ivor Jennings was a constitutional lawyer and educationalist, who started his career teaching at Leeds University and the London School of Economics and Politiocal publishing on areas including the poor law code, housing law, public health law, town and country planning law and laws relating to local government and well as writing on constitutional matters. Appointed principal of University College, Ceylon in 1940, he was its first Vice-Chancellor (1942-1955) when it became the University of Ceylon. He described his life there in Road to Peradeniya, an unpublished autobiography. Jennings was frequently consulted on constitutional, educational and other matters within Ceylon, and elsewhere, including Malaya, India, Pakistan, and Malta. As the colonial period ended, he became particularly interested in the Commonwealth and the newly independent nations and was valued as a commentator on the subject. In 1954 he became Master of Trinity Hall, Cambridge and Downing Professor of the Laws of England in 1962, holding both posts until his death. In later life he returned to his study of the British constitution, with the publication of Party Politics (1960-62). He was knighted in 1948, made a QC in 1949, and awarded the KBE in 1955.

Sir Ivor Jennings was one of the members of the Reid Commission, headed by Lord William Reid, which was charged with devising a constitution for a fully self-governing and independent Federation of Malaya, following the Constitutional Conference held in London in 1956. The Jennings papers contain background publications, papers and reports; various versions of the draft constitution (some heavily annotated); minutes of the Federation of Malaya Constitutional Commission hearings; memorandum and submissions to the Commission; Jennings' correspondence, notes and diary for the period; and press cuttings.

The Constitution needed to accommodate concepts such as federalism and a constitutional monarchy, as well as provisions to protect special position for the Malay people, such as quotas in admission to higher education and the civil service, and making Islam the official religion of the federation. It also made Malay the official language of the nation, although the right to vernacular education in Chinese and Tamil would be protected. The papers provide intriguing background to the formation of a controversial constitution and the decision making processes.

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