COMMENT The G25 wishes to express its deep concern over the government’s proposal to amend the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA), the statute that governs the Malaysian Bar. We understand that the proposed amendments to the LPA are scheduled to be tabled in Parliament in October 2016.
The proposed amendments are in the main, as follows;
(a) Government to appoint two members of the bar to sit on the Bar Council to “represent the government;
(b) Stringent quorum requirement for all general meetings of the Malaysian Bar and state bars to be increased to 25 percent of the membership;
(c) A complete overhaul of the process of electing the members of the Bar Council that will drastically reduce the number of candidates whom members may nominate to the Bar Council;
(d) Division of “elected members” of the Bar Council – more than 10 years in practice and less than 10 years in practice;
(e) Direct election of office-bearers without regard to the spread of membership;
(f) Disqualification of state bar chairs and immediate past vice-president from election as office-bearers;
(g) The minister in charge of legal affairs to be empowered to determine the electoral rules and regulations of the Malaysian Bar.
One of the objectives of the Malaysian Bar is spelt out in section 42(1) of the LPA and it is “to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its own members uninfluenced by fear or favour”.
The Malaysian Bar, true to its cause, has always been a staunch defender of human rights (fundamental liberties), the Federal Constitution and the rule of law.
It has never proposed such amendments. The amendments are drastic and are a serious assault on the independence of the bar and the Malaysian legal profession. Indeed, it would adversely affect the legal standing of the Malaysian legal profession.
The proposed amendments would interfere with, or impede, the internal management and self-regulation of the bar. For example, the rules and regulations for the conduct of elections in the Malaysian Bar are prescribed by the LPA.
It is untenable that a member of the federal cabinet could be reposed with the power of determining the manner in which the bar’s elections are to be conducted. This is tantamount to blatant government interference in the affairs of an independent bar. Such interference cannot be tolerated.
The G25 believes that an independent bar is fundamental to the administration of justice. Any attempt to impose government control and to undermine the independence of the bar must be seen as an attack on the rule of law and must not be condoned.
We are deeply concerned that the proposed amendments to the LPA can be seen as part of the government’s recent series of actions to undermine democracy, fundamental freedoms and the rule of law.
Violation of international standards
The G25 views the proposed amendments as a violation of international standards concerning the regulation of legal professions as prescribed by the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, Havana, Cuba, 1990.
Paragraph 24 states:
“Lawyers shall be entitled to form and join self-governing professional associations to represent their interests, promote their continuing education and training and protect their professional integrity. The executive body of the professional associations shall be elected by its members and shall exercise its function without external interference.”
The G25 is further concerned that the erosion of the independence of the bar will create negative perceptions to foreign investors about the independence and integrity of the Malaysian legal system. Such a negative perception will make Malaysia less attractive as an investment destination.
The Bar Council has announced that it is vehemently opposed to the proposed amendments. The G25 strongly and wholeheartedly supports the stand of the Bar Council in its opposition to the proposed amendments.
We, therefore, respectfully urge the government to reconsider its move to effect the proposed amendments, which, in our opinion, are clearly not in the public interest.
G25 is a group of retired Malay top senior civil servants.