COMMENT Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia (GBM) and the following civil society organisations are gravely concerned with the decision of the government to make several amendments to the 1976 Legal Profession Act (LPA). Such amendments are open attacks on the independence of the Malaysian Bar and blatant violations of the right to freedom of association as guaranteed in the Federal Constitution.
It sets a dangerous precedent of government interference in the operations of independent statutory bodies and civil society organisations. We urge the government to withdraw such proposals immediately.
The amendments, due to be tabled in parliament in October 2016, empowers the government to abolish the current direct elections of 12 members of the Bar Council through postal votes and replace it with elections at the state level, the appointment of two representatives by the minister in charge of legal affairs to sit in the Bar Council and to increase the quorum of the annual general meeting of the Malaysian Bar from 500 to 4,000 members.
The government purportedly made the amendments to improve transparency and representation of the Bar Council, when in reality, it does the exact opposite.
First and foremost, these proposals were not mooted by the members of the Malaysian Bar. Furthermore, the proposed bill has not been made available either to the Malaysian Bar or the public. Hence, its claim of improving transparency and representation is highly questionable.
It is ironic that the attorney-general who had complained about the inadequate representation of the current Bar Council had no qualms about government appointees, a measure that is totally devoid of transparency and representation of the members of the Bar.
The proposal to raise the quorum of the annual general meeting to 25 percent of the membership or 4,000 members, smacks of ill intent. It is absolutely unreasonable and unrealistic, since the highest turnout for any of her AGM has not surpassed 1,910 lawyers, out of their 17,000 membership. It is designed to paralyse the functions of the Malaysian Bar.
In comparison, the quorum for the AGM of the Canadian Bar Association with 37,000 members, is only 100. The Hong Kong Bar Association with about 1,300 members, requires not less than 20 members as its quorum to convene a general meeting.
We strongly urge the federal government and the attorney-general to withdraw the planned amendments and to respect the principle of self-regulation and the right to freedom of association of the Malaysian Bar.
It is the right of the members of the Malaysian Bar to choose her leaders and representatives, through a democratic electoral process. The government must not interfere nor impose conditions on this legitimate and transparent electoral process.
Endorsed by member organisations of Gabungan Bertindak Malaysia:
1. Anak Muda Sarawak (AMS)
3. Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF)
4. Japan Graduates Association Malaysia (Jagam)
5. Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami)
6. Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall (KLSCAH)
7. LLG Cultural Development Centre (LLG)
8. Majlis Perundingan Malaysia Agama Buddha, Kritisian, Hindu, Sikh dan Tao (MCCBCHST)
9. Muslim Professionals Forum (MPF)
10. National Indian Rights Action Team (Niat)
11. Negri Sembilan Chinese Assembly Hall (NSCAH)
12. Persatuan Aliran Kesedaran Negara (Aliran)
13. Pusat Komas (Komas)
14. Saya Anak Bangsa Malaysia (SABM)
15. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram)
16. Tamil Foundation (TF)
17. The Association of Graduates from Universities and Colleges of China, Malaysia (Liu Hua)
18. The Federation & Alumni Associations Taiwan University, Malaysia (Faatum)
19. Tindak Malaysia
20. United Chinese School Alumni Associations of Malaysia (UCSAAM)
Endorsed by other non-governmental organsations:
1. Angkatan Warga Aman Malaysia (WargaAman)
2. Centre for Orang Asli Concerns (COAC)
3. Federation of Malaysian Indian Organisation (Prima)
4. Friends of Kota Damansara
5. Green Friends Sabah
6. Jaringan Orang Asal SeMalaysia (JOAS)
7. Jihad for Justice
8. Kajian Politik untuk Perubahan (KPRU)
9. Komuniti Muslim Universal (KMU)
10. Malaysian Indians Progressive Association (Mipas)
11. Malaysian Indians Transformation Action Team (Mitra)
12. Malaysian Youth And Students Democratic Movement (Dema)
13. Malaysian Youth Care Association (Prihatin)
14. Oriental Hearts and Mind Study Institute (OHMSI)
15. Perak Women for Women Society (PWW)
16. Persatuan Kesedaran Komuniti Selangor (Empower)
17. Persatuan Komuniti Prihatin Selangor dan Kuala Lumpur
18. Persatuan Rapat Malaysia (Rapat)
19. Persatuan Sahabat Wanita Selangor (PSWS)
20. Projek Dialogue
21. Sabah Women’s Action Resource Group (Sawo)
22. Sahabat Rakyat
23. Save Open Spaces, KK
24. Save Sarawak’s Rivers Network (Save Rivers)
25. Sekolah Pemikiran Asy Syatibi
26. Sisters in Islam (SIS)
27. Sunflower Electoral Education Movement (Seed)
28. We Are Malaysians
29. Writers Alliance for Media Independence (Wami)
30. Women’s Centre for Change (WCC)
31. Women Development of Malaysia PJ Branch