PETALING JAYA: The proposal to form a law academy has drawn flak, with one lawyers’ association asking if the government will clamp down on other professional bodies as well.
Furthermore, Association of Women Lawyers president S Meera said the move would dilute and usurp the Malaysian Bar’s independence. She added that the government should learn to work with the Bar Council to probe the abuses that took place during the Bersih 3.0 rally instead of trying to control the legal fraternity. “So will the government start controlling the medical, architecture and accounting fraternities should they voice an opinion which is against the government?” she asked. The move, she added, would also prevent members of the Bar from upholding justice as enshrined in Section 42 of the Legal Profession’s Act. Meera also dismissed the claim that the Bar Council was pro-opposition, saying it was merely a media perception. “The Bar Council is a tool for dispensing justice… Nothing more,” she added.
Similarly, the Syarie Lawyers’ Association dismissed the proposal by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Abdul Aziz as an empty threat. Its adviser Muhamad Burok said the government made similar announcements in the past and even took it to Parliament. “Look what happened? Nothing!” he told FMT. “As for Nazri, ‘dia nak gempak aje lah’ (he is just issuing empty threats).”
‘Don’t blame the Bar Council’
Several lawyers had criticised the Bar Council and the Malaysian Bar over the resolutions passed during its extraordinary general meeting last week, accusing them of being opposition tools. The resolutions condemned the police for using excessive force during the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28.
Nazri, in his criticism against the Bar, said the Bar Council should just dissolve itself for being unprofessional in its conduct.
However, Muhamad Burok said the Bar Council was set up by an act of Parliament and the Legal Professions Act 1976 defined its powers. He also said that no matter how many associations the government sets up, practising lawyers in the country must register themselves with the Bar Council as stipulated by law. “And the government wants to set up another one? Impossible!” he added.
On lawyers who were critical of the Bar Council, he said they could always choose to depose their leadership during the annual general meetings. “Just don’t blame the council for the decisions. Besides, the Bar Council president can only hold his post for a maximum of two terms, unlike some political parties that is holding power for over 50 years,” he said referring to Barisan Nasional. He also said the allegation that the Bar favoured the opposition was not new, since similar claims were made during the tenure of former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Lawyers’ welfare overlooked
Meanwhile, Muslim Lawyers’ Association president Zainul Rijal supported Nazri’s suggestion to form the law academy, saying it would allow lawyers an alternative. He said even in the United Kingdom, there were four academies that regulate the legal fraternity. However, Zainul disagreed with the notion that the Bar Council had become a tool of the opposition but said the council had overlooked several matters involving lawyers’ welfare. “It’s alright to champion fundamental liberties and human rights but it should not be at the expense of member lawyers,” he said. He cited one example, saying that the insurance premium imposed on lawyers was too high and the Bar Council had failed to look into the matter despite numerous complaints.
On the resolutions on Bersih 3.0, Zainul casts doubts on the impartiality since many of the observers sent to monitor the rally were pro-Bersih since the start. “And these observers provided reports to the leadership. So how can we expect them to provide a neutral report?” he asked.