Country Profile: Brunei

This Country Profile provides a basic overview of the legal history and institutional structures of Brunei Darussalam (Negara Brunei Darussalam), based on research produced by the Library of Congress. Under Brunei’s Constitution, Islamic law (sharīʿa or fiqh) is the principle source of legislation.

Country Background

Brunei is located in Southeastern Asia, along the northern coast of the island of Borneo. The country is bounded by the South China Sea to the north and Malaysia to the south. The capital of Brunei is Bandar Seri Begawan. The official language is Malay. The country’s population in 2016 was approximately 443,593. The official religion of Brunei is Islam. Brunei is a predominantly Muslim country, with about 79% of the population Muslim. Due to its oil and gas reserves, Brunei is one of the wealthiest countries in the world and has one the world’s highest standards of living. Brunei is a member state of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Constitution & Legal Structure

Brunei is referred to as an absolute monarchy or sultanate. A British colony since 1888, Brunei was the only Malay state in 1963 which chose to remain part of the Commonwealth rather than join the federation that became Malaysia. Brunei fully gained its independence in 1984. The Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, is one of the world’s longest-reigning and few remaining absolute monarchs. In 1991 he introduced the Malay Muslim Monarchy, which presented the monarchy as the defender of the faith (Islam).

The Parliament of Brunei was suspended from 1984 to 2004. Although Parliament was reinstated in 2004, the people of Brunei cannot elect any government officials and the parliament is constructed of a 20 member council appointed by the Sultan himself. In fact, the Sultan wields broad powers under a state of emergency that has been in effect since 1984, and no legislative elections have been held since then. Citizens often voice concerns to their leaders through a traditional system under which government-vetted, elected village chiefs meet periodically with top government officials. Although the citizens of Brunei do not have much political authority, Brunei has one of the highest standards of living in the world. The government provides its citizens with free medical care, free education, subsidized housing, and generous pensions. As such, the majority of Brunei’s citizens are pleased with their government and in fact, the royal family is revered by its subjects.

Constitutional Status of Islamic Law

As of 2014, Islamic law has constitutional status in Brunei. In 2014, the Sultan revised Brunei’s penal code in three phases . . .

Read Brunei’s profile.