Let Bar remain independent, urges Gerakan’s Baljit

Baljit-Singh1

GEORGE TOWN: Defer tabling of the proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) in Parliament until further discussions are held, Gerakan National Legal and Human Rights Bureau Chief Baljit Singh said today.

He said Gerakan was against the proposed amendments for it would threaten the independence of the Bar as a whole.

The Bar is a professional body that governs all advocates and solicitors in Peninsular Malaysia. The amendment, moved by the Attorney-General (AG), will be tabled in Parliament next month.

Baljit felt the proposed amendments, especially the inclusion of two government appointees within the Bar Council, would affect the credibility of the Bar as a whole.

“Whether we like it or not, the Bar Council throughout the world is viewed as an effective check and balance of the government of the day.

“Yes, there are criticisms … they have been viewed as favouring the Opposition, but that is the case of the Bar around the world. We should take their opinions as is,” he said at a press conference at the Penang Club here today.

Baljit said the amendments would cast doubts on the legal profession as a whole and smear it as a fraternity with a political tendency.

“Gerakan reiterates that an independent Bar would provide for a better check and balance in governing the country.

“All criticisms by the Bar must be seen positively and any disagreement should be discussed and explained.

“The government should encourage more constructive criticism.”

Meanwhile, Baljit also recommended that the judicial and legal service run as separate entities.

Baljit said currently, the magistrate’s courts and Sessions Courts were under the purview of the AG.

“The entire judicial service should be headed by the chief registrar (of the Federal Court), with the legal service under the AG.

“This is to avoid any conflict of interest.”

AG Mohamed Apandi Ali had said the government’s decision to amend the LPA was to make the Bar Council more “transparent, democratic and return it to its original purpose”.

The amendments to the LPA are expected to severely impact the Bar Council. For example, it requires a higher quorum of 4,000 for the Malaysian Bar’s general meetings. At present, the required quorum is 500.

The quorum adjustment is one of seven proposed changes to the LPA.

In a column in Berita Harian Ahad in July, AG Apandi cited several shortfalls in the Bar Council and hoped the amendments would fix them.

Apandi claimed the amendments were necessary “to ensure a better relationship between the Bar Council and the government”.

More recently, de facto Law Minister Azalina Othman Said said the proposed amendments were not to control the Bar Council as the amendments were made in accordance with Section 42 (1) (1) of the LPA, which promoted good relations and social interaction among members involved in the administration of law in Malaysia.

The Bar Council was formed under the Advocates and Solicitors’ Ordinance 1947 and later fell under the purview of the LPA. A total of 17,049 advocates and solicitors were registered as members as of July 12.

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