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We can’t deny foreigners right to legal aid, says lawyer

 | August 12, 2017

Lawyer Ravi Nekoo says legal representation is a right, not privilege, from the time one is arrested right through to prosecution, whether he is a local or foreigner.

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PETALING JAYA: Former Bar Council National Legal Aid chairperson Ravi Nekoo has criticised the new amendment to the Legal Aid Act that took away the rights of non-Malaysians to seek legal advice, citing it as “unacceptable”.

“Access to justice is a fundamental right and not a privilege.

“This basic right must also be extended to foreigners who may run afoul of local laws,” he said, when asked to comment on the Legal Aid Act’s new amendment on Section 29.

The Dewan Rakyat had last Thursday passed the amendments to the Legal Aid Act, including removing the right to legal advice for non-citizens under Section 29.

In winding up the debate on the Bill, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Azalina Othman Said however, explained that the amendments will not deny justice to foreigners, adding that they can still get access to justice from existing agencies such as the National Legal Aid Foundation, the courts, and their respective embassies.

Besides the Section 29 amendment, the bill also introduced a new provision, Section 29G, that children of sexual crimes be provided with a legal companion service.

Ravi questioned what help the foreigners could get if they are arrested, and when they are charged and right through to the prosecution in court.

“The amendment contradicted with Section 28A of the Criminal Procedure Code, where a person arrested can ask for a lawyer to represent him in his case.

“Who should they ask for help if not from Legal Aid lawyers?” Ravi asked, reiterating that the government should not take away the rights accorded to an arrested person, no matter who they are or where they come from.

Criminal lawyer Rafique Rashid Ali said this amendment had put Malaysia “three to four steps backwards” by international standards.

“It is not fair to backtrack just because the government says they do not have the funds to run the scheme,” the Selangor Bar committee member said.

Last year, Selangor Bar Committee chairman Salim Bashir said the government owed lawyers more than RM800,000 and the slow payment had made many lawyers reject taking up more legal aid cases.

It was understood that the total amount owed to lawyers in the peninsula between January and August last year was about RM3.4 million.

Azalina had in January said that the Legal Aid Department has been serving more foreigners than locals, prompting the government to change the law.

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