Lawyer: Planned changes to legal profession act will cripple independence

malaysian-bar-lpa-1KUALA LUMPUR: The proposed amendments to the Malaysian Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) will severely undermine the independence of the legal profession.

Hakimi Abdul Jabar.
Hakimi Abdul Jabar.

They are also inconsistent with international legal principles, according to an opinion piece in Asia Times written by Hakimi Abdul Jabar, a lawyer and music composer here.

He said the independence of the legal profession, and the bodies that represent it, was essential to ensuring the rule of law, access to justice and respect for human rights.

He quoted the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the UN Human Rights Council to show the important role of judges, prosecutors, lawyers, bar associations, and professional associations of judges and prosecutors in ensuring this.

Governments, he said, should ensure that lawyers were able to perform their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference. They should also not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.

Saying the Malaysian Bar had existed for more than 70 years as an independent legal association, Hakimi noted that the proposed amendments to the LPA would lead to drastic changes in the leadership of the Malaysian bar, the election process for its leaders, and the organisation of its annual meetings.

The amendments will allow the government to appoint two members to sit on the Bar Council to “represent the government.”

This, Hakimi said, was against the 24th UN Basic Principle which stated that the executive body of professional associations should be elected by its members and should exercise its functions without external interference.

“There is no justification for mandating government appointment of two members of the Bar Council, the executive body of the Malaysian bar. Such appointments would inherently undermine the independence of the Bar Association.

“The proposed law would, therefore, create an unjustified infringement upon the right of association of members of the legal profession as enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution, international law, and requirements of the UN Basic Principles.”

The amendments will also allow the minister in charge of legal affairs to determine the electoral rules and regulations of the Malaysian bar.

He said giving control over electoral rules and regulations to a member of the executive branch would undoubtedly be seen as the government exerting an improper influence over the Bar Council.

Another amendment relates to elections and the governing processes of the Malaysian Bar, including a change in quorum for general meetings.

He said the proposed increase in quorum would impose “undue burdens” on the Malaysian Bar and effectively prohibit it from having general meetings where resolutions and policies could be debated and passed.

Hakimi added: “These proposed amendments certainly undermine the independence of lawyers in Malaysia.”

He called on lawyers to “fervently protect without fear or favor” the independence of the Malaysian Bar.