It was passed before Dewan Rakyat deputy Speaker Datuk Seri Ismail Mohamed Said after it was debated by 10 Members of Parliament.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said said, when enforced, the bill would ensure only Malaysians could receive legal aid service from the Legal Aid Department.
“Its rational is to ensure public fund from tax payers and the facilities provided by the government prioritised the people,” she said when winding up the debate on the bill
However, she explained that the amendment would not deny access to justice to any quarters including foreign nationals.
She said foreign nationals could still obtain access to justice from existing agencies such as the National Legal Aid Foundation and the court also gave legal aid via assigned counsel for cases carrying the death penalty.
In addition, she said the foreign embassies in Malaysia could also give legal aid services to their own citizens other than registered non-government organisations in the country.
“So, based on these explanations, the issue of discrimination to foreign nationals (to obtain access to justice) does not arise,” she said when replying to questions by several Members of Parliament who were concerned that the amendment would discriminate against foreign nationals.
During the debate several opposition members of Parliament, including Shamsul Iskandar Mohd Akin (PKR-Bukit Katil) and Ramkarpal Singh (DAP-Bukit Gelugor), had raised the issue of access to justice for foreign workers in Malaysia.
“Give room for foreign workers in Malaysia to obtain justice because they too contribute to the national economic development. This is also to ensure access to justice is available to all quarters,” said Shamsul.
Earlier, during the tabling of the amendments to the bill for second reading, Azalina said the provision of a legal companion for child sexual abuse cases was among the new concepts introduced in the amendment to the bill (Act 26).
She said the service is given specifically to the victims who is still a child during the court proceeding.
The bill also, among others, included the definition of legal aid in the act to clarify the form of aid given, restructuring the provision on the registration fees and improving on the affordability test in line with the current policy of the government.
“The amendment to the act is to ensure the sustainability of the Legal Aid Department and a service which impacts on the society to secure appropriate access to justice,” she said.
The Dewan Rakyat sitting adjourns until Monday, next week. — Bernama