In a forum, former Bar Council president K Ragunath says Malaysia should not have an 'alternative Bar' or law academy, saying that Singapore is "not a good model" to duplicate
Speaking at a forum at the Bar Council office this morning, he saidthat Singapore should not be a benchmark for the Malaysian Bar as its conduct and achievements were “way above” its Singapore counterpart.
“We should not benchmark with Singapore. My goodness, [in terms of] human rights we are way ahead. We have the best in the region,” he told an audience of the “alternative Bar, alternative future” forum organised by the Bar Council’s national young lawyers committee(NYLC).
The forum, part of Bar Council’s “Siri Pemikiran Kritis”, was discussing the proposal and possibility of having a second Bar. The idea of having a body in addition to the Bar was sparked soon after the Bar Council in May held an extraordinary general meeting passing a motion which condemned police brutality during the Bersih 3.0 rally on April 28.
Expressing his disapproval to having an alternate Bar or a law academy, Ragunath said that Singapore was “not a good model… in many ways”
“We are way above Singapore. Don’t talk about independence[of the Bar], [even] the activities of the members, are much higher than [what is done] in Singapore. Yes, I stand by what I say,” said Ragunath.
Ragunath questioned the need for a legislation for a law academy and asked if the public would be funding it. He said that the concern over having a law academy was the fear that it would conflict with Bar Council’s role.
“The first step is the law academy, then you go one step further and offer certificates and license to law academics to go to court. Then next, digruntled members of the Bar who are sacked from the Bar for disciplinary reasons can then practise in the new Bar? This is the concern.”
The president of the Bar Council [between 2009 and 2011] admitted that there is perception that the Bar is pro-Pakatan, but stressed that it was merely perception.
He stressed that many are unaware that “more than 90% of the work the Bar does is actually pro-government” and “maybe only 1% of the work is controversial.”
Ragunath urged the current Bar Council president to engage with everybody and work “10 times harder” to change the perception of the Bar Council being “political”.
However, he said that he was “happy” to see differing views and commented that this type of vocal variance of opinions would not have been tolerated in the Bar Council 20 years ago.
Ragunath condemned “booing and shouting” that took place during the Bar Council’s recent EGM and said that the Bar Council is supposed to accept differing views. “Is it not better we learn to live with differences? Today we have Bar A, next we have Bar B, an alternative Bar is not going to solve the problems.”
Aside from Ragunath, other speakers at the forum were Umno legal adviser Mohd Hafarizam Harun, vocal Bar Council critic Abu Backer Sidek, Bar Council veteran Roger Tan Kor Mee, and Bar Council’s
Khaizan Sharizan Abdul Razak. It was moderated by Daniel Albert from the Bar Council’s young lawyers committee.
Hafarizam said earlier that Malaysia should look to Singapore, being a first class country, as it has a law academy.
“Why are we so worried[about having an alternative]. Are we afraid of our own shadow? Let the government have it’s own Act,” he said, adding that Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz himself assured him yesterday that only non-practicing lawyers would be members of the academy.
“Why do we need this now? Very simple, Bar council is now regarded as the fourth opposition party other than DAP, PKR and PAS. The Bar Council is now infested with political opportunists,” he said.
Hafarizam dismissed a question by moderator Daniel if the law academy was simply to stifle dissent after the Bar Counci’s vocal stance against the government on Bersih.
“Let’s be the man on the street. You have this perception here that the the Bar Council is nothing but pro-opposition. The government took the responsibility to listen to the voices of those unsatisfied Bar Council members.”
Meanwhile, Abu Backer expressed his ‘annoyance and hate’ that the Bar Council had “supported Bersih”. He said he represented a lot of lawyers who are not voicing their silent dissatisfaction.
“You are talking about phantom votes. Where is the hantu[ghosts]? [Bersih co-chairperson S] Ambiga please, I’d love to see the hantu. But until today we don’t see any hantu.”
“We are lawyers, we know how to take things up. We don’t go to the streets, jumping, shouting. Be a professional body. It[the Bar Council] is over for me. I welcome and fully support an alternative Bar. I would love to have that. We always know that a monopoly is no good,” said Abu Backer.
He said that he was personally also setting up a body that would champion lawyers’ without any political interference.
Both Abu Backer and Hafarizam also complained about how the Bar Council has not taken care of the welfare of lawyers—including standing up for their members, and making sure they earn enough.
Meanwhile, Bar Council national young lawyers’ committee chairman Richard Wee spoke from the floor, saying that in principle, a law academy “seems something we can embrace”.
However, Wee said that it was wrong for anyone to form a new committee or body just because “you don’t like someone”.
“This opens the door. For example, I don’t like Petaling Jaya City Council[MBPJ], then can we form alternative MBPJ? If I don’t like the PM, do we then have an alternative government.
“The peninsular voted and 52% were against the government. Can the people then form an alternative government? Can I put who I want as a prime minister there? You can’t change the game because it’s not favourable to you.”
He said that if there are members of the Bar who are unhappy with its top management, they could vote in its elections in November. “We have people from all political backgrounds. The Bar is reflective of what people are.. The work that we do is not pro- anyone. It is pro-law,” he said .
Meanwhile, in a press conference later, Bar Council president Lim defended the stance to urge the government to reconsider having a law academy.
“Why is Parliament time being wasted to draft a legislation [we don't need?]. If you need that, then perhaps you would also need legislation for the Hokkien society, a pet shop owners association… the fear is that it would ultimately usurp the Bar Council’s role,” he said.
He said that he has met Nazri and Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department V K Liew and the two have agreed to consider the Bar Council’s views.
Asked if Nazri was agreeable to canceling plans for an academy, Lim said: “The discussions are still ongoing, maybe I am a poor advocate… but our views in the meeting are similar, nine out of 10 matters we agree on,” he said.
On perceptions that Bar Council was pro-Opposition, Lim said:” Every week, I try to meet a BN leader. I engage as many [people] as I can.[It was mentioned in a forum] that I was a MCA member, I had to resign, I had to be a-political when I was elected president of the Bar.
Lim said that the legal bodies of other countries also supported Bar Council’s decision to criticise police brutality.
Last week, Nazri said that the government’s idea of forming the law academy last month should not be opposed as that would violate freedom of association.
“It does not involve the Bar at all. The academy will allow ex-judges, law academics, representatives from the Attorney General Chambers and others to be in a society. What right does the Bar Council has to stop them?” he asked.
In response, three lawyers’ associations– the Bar Council, Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) and Sabah Law Association (SLA) – issued a statement saying that a law academy is an attempt to diminish the independence of the Bar in Malaysia.
One of the alleged reasons given by the government to justify the formation of the law academy is to raise the standards and improve the quality of lawyers.