The independence of the Malaysian Bar must not be curtailed — Steven Thiru

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Source: The Malay Mail Online

BY STEVEN THIRU

SEPTEMBER 7 — The Malaysian Bar refers to the comments made by the Minister of Tourism and Culture Datuk Seri Mohamed Nazri bin Abdul Aziz (“Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz”) in The Star Online on September 3, 2016,   and Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs Chief Executive Wan Saiful Wan Jan in Malaysiakini on September 6, 2016, [ii] concerning the proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 (“LPA”).

The views expressed by Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz — a senior member of the Cabinet and formerly the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of legal affairs — and Wan Saiful Wan Jan are consistent with the stand taken by the Malaysian Bar in opposing the proposals. The Malaysian Bar appreciates their support.

There can be no doubt that, contrary to the stated purpose, the proposed amendments are explicitly designed to curtail the independence of the Malaysian Bar and interfere with the internal management of the Malaysian Bar.

It is the Members of the Malaysian Bar who should decide on the electoral process for electing Bar Council members, who are to be tasked with managing the affairs of the Malaysian Bar. Further, the existing practice of Bar Council members electing the President, Vice-President and Secretary, and appointing the Treasurer — who collectively constitute the Office Bearers of the Malaysian Bar — is widely accepted in many key jurisdictions, such as Australia, Singapore and the United Kingdom.

Moreover, an excessively high quorum requirement would render the convening of general meetings of the Malaysian Bar almost impossible. The Bar Council would not be able to take office, and the administration of the Malaysian Bar would therefore be paralysed. The Malaysian Bar would also be impeded in discharging its statutory functions, which encompasses professional practice, the interest of its Members, and public interest matters.

In a modern democracy, the importance of an independent Bar — one that truly upholds the rule of law — cannot and should not be ignored or undervalued. It is critical to the independence of the Judiciary, the administration of justice and the protection of rights of citizens, and to promote both domestic and foreign investor confidence.

The Bar Council has embarked on a nationwide consultation exercise on the proposed amendments to the LPA, through public forums organised by the State Bar Committees. Members of the Bar and members of the public — particularly at the forums that have already been conducted in Johore, Kelantan, Malacca, Pahang, Penang, Selangor and Terengganu — have overwhelmingly expressed their objections to the proposed amendments. Similar forums will be held in Kedah, Kuala Lumpur, Negri Sembilan and Perlis in the coming weeks.

More than 17 international and national bar associations and law organisations, as well as the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Association, have voiced their unequivocal support for the Malaysian Bar’s stand in opposing the proposed amendments. [iii] The Malaysian Bar has so far also received expressions of solidarity from over 55 local civil society organisations.

The widespread support for the Malaysian Bar and the public recognition of the importance of an independent Bar is very encouraging and most appreciated. The Malaysian Bar will continue to resist any attempt to interfere with our independence, in adherence to our calling to act without fear or favour.

* Steven Thiru is president of the Malaysian Bar.

 

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