PETALING JAYA: Lawyers who have a Chinese school background are baffled as to why Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) holders are suddenly being barred from sitting for the entry exam for legal practice.
The Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB) claims that it had decided in 2005 not to recognise the Chinese independent school exam as a qualification that was on par with STPM and A-levels.
However, last month, in a notice the LPQB sent to colleges which were preparing students for the CLP exam, it said the decision was never enforced . The board added that the decision was being implemented from this year, 12 years later.
This has left students with UEC, who had been looking forward to sitting for the CLP exam, being caught unawares.
Calling the UEC restriction unfair, current practising lawyers, who left school with UEC and passed the CLP before the UEC ban was enforced, want the 12-year decision to be reversed by the current LPQB members.
The lawyers also said they did not face any problems when sitting for the CLP exam and practising with their UEC results.
A Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer, who spoke to FMT on condition of anonymity, said the authorities had not explained why an old decision is only now being implemented.
“Times have changed and demands are very different now compared with what they used to be.
“Given the amount of time that has lapsed, any diligent authority would have reviewed and re-evaluated its decision made more than a decade earlier before its implementation,” she said.
The lawyer, who has been practising for four years, questioned if the implementation was because UEC holders’ passing rate was less satisfactory than those with STPM or A-levels.
“I do not know how UEC holders performed in the CLP exam compared with those from STPM and A-level backgrounds.
“Perhaps updated statistics on the CLP results of STPM, A-levels and UEC holders should be published,” she said.
Meanwhile, a young corporate lawyer said the rule barring UEC holders from sitting for the CLP exam will destroy the hopes of Chinese school graduates to don the black robes.
“We choose to take CLP here and not sit for the English Bar course because the entry exam here is much cheaper. We cannot afford the English Bar course as we are not rich,” she said.
Checks by FMT at two private colleges here showed the CLP course and exam costs about RM15,000 while the Bar Professional Training Course offered in eight UK universities costs over RM100,000.
The lawyer said the current batch of law graduates from Chinese schools would be affected by the ruling.
“They have law degrees but then they can’t be lawyers as they are not ‘qualified’ enough,” she said.
The issue of LPQB banning UEC holders from sitting for the CLP exam was raised by the chairman of the Sibu branch of the Sarawak Advocates Association (AAS) David Kuok.
He said the decision was a “strange” one and current board members need to review it.
Former Malaysian Bar president Khutubul Zaman Bukhari had questioned why the East Malaysian lawyers group was upset over the ban as the LPQB decision cannot be extended to Sabah and Sarawak.
However, current Bar president George Varughese clarified that the board’s decision “binds every law student who wants to take the CLP exam, regardless of where they are from”.
When asked if the current board members would review the 12-year-old decision, Varughese said he had asked for the issue to be discussed at LPQB’s next meeting in December.
According to a notice on the board’s website, the decision not to recognise the UEC as equivalent to SPM or STPM was made in 2005.
Those who wish to sit for the CLP need at least two pass grades in either the STPM or A-Levels.
The LPQB consists of the attorney-general, the Malaysian Bar president, two judges and an academic nominated by the government.
Sabah Law Society’s president Brenndon Keith Soh said the lawyers’ committee will discuss the matter at their monthly meeting. He said the decision may deter Sabah UEC holders from entering legal practice.
AAS will also be discussing the UEC issue affecting Sarawakians at its meeting later this month.