GEORGE TOWN: The Malaysian Bar has lauded a call by Attorney-General (AG) Tommy Thomas to replace the law governing lawyers to ensure the body is free from government interference and retains its independence.
Bar president George Varughese said a high-powered committee has been working on the replacement law for the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) so that it can be modernised to keep up with current trends while keeping it free from outside control.
Earlier today, AG Tommy Thomas called on the Bar to “quickly” draft a new bill to replace the LPA.
He said the LPA had been amended by the previous government many times, ostensibly to punish the Bar, which took a stance against the government.
Varughese said the key changes to the LPA being considered are provisions in the act that require the AG’s approval and that of the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB).
He said the LPQB, in particular, needs to be revamped in terms of its top leadership. The current board is headed by the AG, two judges and a member of the academia, he said.
“The board is there to ensure the high standard of people coming into the legal profession.
“We want to change the LPQB so that the Bar has more control. The Bar should be given a bigger say on who should come into the profession and how to maintain the standards of the profession,” Varughese told FMT.
He said the proposed law to replace the LPA will allow the Bar to be more independent from the government and regulate itself without interference.
Varughese said the former government had plans to include 10 appointed members to sit in the Bar Council and had also wanted to change its internal electoral system.
He said the move was seen as a threat to the Bar’s independence and he was thankful it was not pursued due to pressure from the council and international legal monitors.
Meanwhile, lawyer RSN Rayer said the call to amend the LPA to exclude government involvement in the Bar was timely since the past government had been trying to remove its freedom.
He said the previous government had wielded a big stick to silence lawyers due to the Bar’s criticism of the federal government.
“The government then had wanted to plant members from the AG’s Chambers and the Prime Minister’s Department in the Bar to keep us ‘in check’.
“AG Thomas’ call is timely and I am fully supportive of any move to amend the LPA so that it is free from government control,” he said.
Former AG Mohamed Apandi Ali, justifying the proposed amendments, said the BN government wanted to amend the LPA to ensure the Bar was “transparent, democratic and to return it to its original purpose”.
One of the hotly opposed amendments was a requirement for a quorum of 4,000 members for any general meeting of the Bar, as opposed to only 500.
Another proposal was to appoint two Bar members who were “government representatives”. The amendments were to give power to the then law minister to make rules and regulations on the conduct of the Bar Council elections and office bearers.
These two members would not be eligible to contest any position as office bearers of the Bar, that is president, vice-president, secretary or treasurer.
Apandi had said the amendments were necessary “to ensure a better relationship between the Bar Council and the government”.
The Bar Council was formed under the Advocates and Solicitors’ Ordinance 1947 and later fell under the purview of the LPA.
There are about 18,000 registered members of the Bar to date.