Bar EGM necessary as rule of law is under siege, say lawyers

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PETALING JAYA: The Malaysian Bar, which is holding an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) today on the on-going judicial crisis, is merely upholding a tradition in the Commonwealth to do so when the rule of law is under threat, lawyers said.

They said in the Malaysian context, the Bar, with a membership of about 18,000, also performed a statutory duty under the Legal Profession Act (LPA).

Lawyer Zainur Zakaria said one of the objectives of the Bar under Section 42 of the LPA was to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour.

“Personalities are not the issue but most importantly to see the spirit and the letter of the law are followed by all,” said Zainur, a former Bar president.

He was commenting on the significance of the EGM called to debate on the government’s decision to retain two top judges in their administrative posts.

Four weeks ago, the government appointed Chief Justice Raus Sharif and Court of Appeal President Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin as additional judges.

The king, on the advice of the prime minister and after consulting the Conference of Rulers which met in May, also reappointed Raus and Zulkefli to remain in their present posts.

Raus’ tenure is for three years from tomorrow (Aug 4) while Zulkefli will remain in his current administrative post for two years from Sept 28. Raus is scheduled to retire today while Zulkefli on Sept 27 after reaching the mandatory retirement age.

Most lawyers and retired judges are of the view that no Federal Court judge can remain in his administrative post after reaching 66 years and six months of age.

Lawyer Eric Paulsen said the Bar Council could have acted without calling for an EGM but it wanted to get a mandate from members to have a strong moral voice on its stand.

“The EGM also gives those who are against the motions to express their views,” said Paulsen, who is also executive director of Lawyers for Liberty.

He said the Bar had over the last 30 years convened EGMs when the government went against the Federal Constitution and approved undemocratic legislation.

“Today’s meeting is no exception because lawyers who are stakeholders in the administration of justice just want to convey a strong message to the government to respect the law and constitution,” he said.

Paulsen said it was unfortunate the stormy judicial controversy over the past month would have caught the attention of other countries, especially the Commonwealth jurisdiction like the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, India and Singapore.

“But why did the government put the two positions in a controversy?” he asked.

Paulsen said the current public perception was that the judiciary and every agency such as the Attorney-General’s Chambers, police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, which were responsible for the administration of justice, were under the control of the Executive.

Lawyer R Kengadharan said a responsible Bar must express its opinion to safeguard the interest of the majority.

“This is because there is a need to maintain neutrality and independence of the judiciary. We do not want a further erosion of public confidence,” he said.

Kengadharan said the Bar also owed a duty to the public to explain its legal position, although it was not binding.

He said it was also incumbent for stakeholders to appoint judges to act responsibly and rationally and not be guided by friendship.

“Any judicial appointment insulated by politics will ultimately destroy the institution and, therefore, politicians must not be misguided,” he added.

Two motions will be debated at the EGM although the Bar council had earlier taken the stand that the appointments of Raus and Zulkefli were “blatantly unconstitutional”.

The EGM will be held at 4pm at the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall and the quorum required to start the meeting is 500 members.

The first motion crafted in general terms is: “Upholding the supremacy of the Federal Constitution and defending the independence and integrity of the judiciary”,

The second motion is: “To protect judicial independence in Malaysia and ensure all safeguards, especially security of tenure remains strong and uncompromised.”

Yesterday, Pakatan Harapan (PH) leaders submitted a memorandum to the Agong, seeking his intervention to stop the re-appointments of Raus and Zulkefli, which they claimed were unconstitutional.