A federal lawmaker has criticised attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali's proposal to introduce amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA), saying it was akin to appointing government watchdogs to sit on the Bar Council to interfere and hinder its administration.
Alor Setar MP, Gooi Hsiao Leung, who is PKR supreme council member, also dismissed Apandi's assurance yesterday that the proposed amendments to appoint government representatives to sit on the Bar Council to ensure good relationships as “totally unbelievable and lacks any credibility – tell it to the marines”.
“The government’s proposal to amend LPA is an unbridled attempt to undermine the independence of the Bar Council, particularly after the Bar Council had challenged the AG's decision in court for clearing Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak of any wrongdoing in regard to the RM2.6 billion donation scandal,” he said in a statement today.
Gooi, who is also a lawyer, said that looking at the background of how the government was pushing through to amend the LPA, one could see a more sinister intention behind the plan.
“The government did not even have the courtesy to invite and consult the Bar Council before proposing the amendments.
“I was informed that the government’s unilateral decision to amend the LPA was shockingly sent by e-mail in April giving the Bar Council merely seven days to respond, failing which it was deemed that the Bar had accepted the government’s proposal.
“Where is the friendly and close relationship that Apandi wants to promote between the Bar Council and government?” he asked.
He added that a hardcopy of the government's proposal was marked 'rahsia' (confidential), making it virtually impossible for the Bar Council to openly discuss the government's proposal with its council members.
Gooi also said that another amendment was to increase the quorum needed for an AGM from 500 to 4,000 or a 25 percent (increase), making it virtually impossible for the Bar Council to conduct its meeting.
“This is incontrovertible evidence of the government’s malicious intention to interfere with, hinder and disrupt the administration of the Bar Council,” he said.
Gooi also alleged that no draft bill of the amendment was forwarded to the Bar Council to study and submit its comments.
He claimed that requests for a meeting with Apandi to discuss the government proposal have not been entertained.
He pointed out that the Bar Council plays a pivotal role in the protection of the rule of law, good governance and democracy as envisaged in the spirit and intention of Section 42 of the LPA, which spells out the objectives of the Bar Council.
As such, he added, its independence (free from government interference) must be fiercely defended.
“I wish to advise Apandi to read Section 42(1)(a) of the LPA – setting out the objectives of the Bar Council – a hundred times and tell us again whether the government proposal is intended to promote or kill the objectives of the Bar Council to uphold the rule of law and the cause of justice in this country,” he said.
Gooi said he strongly condemned any move to muzzle the Bar Council and urged all lawmakers from both sides of the political divide to reject any government’s plans to table any bills in the next Parliament sitting that threaten the independence of the legal professional body.
The next Parliament seating is expected to begin on Oct 17.
Yesterday, Apandi wrote in Berita Harian that the government's decision to appoint two government representatives to sit on the Bar Council was to ensure good relationships and he brushed off allegations by legal experts, including the Bar Council, that the amendments were to control the body, which is seen as a major critic of the government.