PUTRAJAYA: Chief Justice Richard Malanjum today suggested that lawyers in the peninsula who are called to the Bar represent 20 cases per year involving poor and needy individuals to allow them access to justice.
Adding that this had been the practice in Sabah and Sarawak for several years now, he voiced hope that it would be done in the peninsula as well.
“I hope the Malaysian Bar will look into this matter and adopt the scheme to allow the poor and needy to have access to justice,” he told reporters after delivering his keynote address at the AICHR-CACJ High Level Asean Human Rights Dialogue titled “The Right of Accused Persons in Criminal Cases”.
About 55 delegates, including the chief justices of Singapore and Laos, are attending the one-day event.
Malanjum said lawyers in the Bornean states would pledge to represent 100 clients over the next five years on a pro bono basis after being called to the Bar.
“We monitor them to see if the targets are reached,” he added. “if not, we will call them up to find out why.”
Malanjum, who was chief justice of Sabah and Sarawak from 2007 until his elevation to the position of top judge in August, said in his speech that many poor and illiterate people who were actually innocent were forced to admit to crimes as they could not engage lawyers to represent them.
“This should not happen. This is where those in the legal profession must be sensitive and look into the problem,” he said.
He added that young lawyers would gain experience by representing the poor and needy in criminal cases.
He also suggested a prisoner exchange programme in Asean to reduce overcrowding in jails and bring down the cost of maintenance.
“Malaysian prisons can cater for up to 4,000 detainees, but the numbers have soared to 10,000,” he said, attributing this to the large numbers of illegal immigrants who committed crimes.
He said the government spent about RM1.4 billion to upkeep its prisons, which was a huge amount.
“One of the suggestions is to exchange prisoners so that they can return home to serve their sentence,” he said.
He also urged the Pakatan Harapan government to prioritise the rule of law, adding that this meant accused persons must be given a fair trial.
“Equally important is that they must be given the right to be heard, and the rule against bias must be upheld at all times.”
Any violation of the rights of an accused person should be remedied by the courts, he added.
“In Malaysia, we are sensitive to any gross violations and the courts have awarded high damages to plaintiffs.”
Malanjum also reminded law enforcement agencies not to abuse their powers while carrying out their duties.
“They should never allow themselves to be made into political tools,” he said, adding that the police in particular must be sensitive to the importance of human rights.