AG wants single body to offer legal aid, says Bar chief

Bar Council chairman George Varughese says the government should either repeal or amend legislation that is against the rule of law. (Bernama pic)

PUTRAJAYA: The government wants the National Legal Aid Foundation(YBGK) and the Legal Aid Bureau to be combined to give the poor and needy better access to justice, Bar Council chairman George Varughese said.

He said Attorney-General Tommy Thomas had expressed his desire to have a single body providing assistance to the marginalised group in criminal and civil cases.

“He wants to see a comprehensive legal aid scheme and the Bar is prepared to give its input,” he told reporters after a courtesy call on Tommy at his office here today.

He said the proposal came from the Bar and that Thomas had agreed to study it.

Varughese said they also discussed several proposed legal and constitutional reforms that would be undertaken by the Pakatan Harapan government.

This is the Bar’s first meeting with the AG over the last three years. The last meeting was with Abdul Gani Patail in early 2015.

Tommy was appointed AG last week.

Varughese said the Bar had its own Legal Aid Centres but its capacity was limited.

“We feel legal aid is the responsibility of the government and our centres will complement them,” he said.

At present, the Legal Aid Bureau is run by the government while YBGK is a joint enterprise between the government and the three Bars of Malaysia – the Malaysian Bar, Sabah Law Association and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak.

YBGK was launched in 2012 to provide legal aid to all Malaysians earning less than RM36,000 a year.

It was found that 80% of those charged in courts for criminal cases were unrepresented because they could not afford the legal fees.

However, over the last two years, YBGK ran into hiccups due to lack of funding and reports of alleged false claims by lawyers.

Between April 2012 and December 2015, YBGK lawyers handled 535,986 cases.

Varughese said Tommy also wanted the major stakeholders in law reform to provide feedback to the government.

“We will play a major role in the consultation process,” he said.

Varughese said the Bar had also urged Tommy to take a holistic approach in bringing about changes to the Legal Profession Act 1976.

“He asked us to give our proposals to him to study.”

Varughese said the Bar had also suggested that the government should either repeal or amend legislation that was against the rule of law.

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