Be bold in speaking on public interest issues, lawyer tells Bar Council

Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al Mahdzar says the Bar Council should take a position on issues based on the rule of law.

PETALING JAYA: A senior lawyer has urged the Bar Council to speak up on public interest issues such as Indian Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik and the recent High Court ruling that women’s group Sisters in Islam (SIS) must go to the Shariah Court to challenge the fatwa declaring it a deviant group.

Syed Iskandar Syed Jaafar Al Mahdzar said the council, which manages the day-to-day affairs of the Malaysian Bar, should take a position on such issues based on the rule of law.

The council has so far remained silent on the remarks of Naik, who caused a stir last month when he was believed to have cast doubts on the loyalty of Malaysian Hindus and questioned the position of the Chinese community in Malaysia in several public speeches in Kelantan.

It was likewise silent on the High Court ruling on SIS, the proposal by the Selangor government that its Islamic enactment be amended to allow for unilateral conversion, and the recent raids by religious authorities on Shia Muslims in Selangor and Johor.

In the past, Syed Iskandar said, the council’s leaders had always been ready to give their legal opinion even if it did not go down well with the establishment or views of the majority.

He said under Section 42 of the Legal Profession Act, the Bar and council are expected to uphold the cause of justice without regard to their own interests or those of their members, uninfluenced by fear or favour.

He added that the provision states that where requested to do so, the lawyers group should express its view on matters affecting legislation and the administration and practice of law in Malaysia.

He said the council is also expected to protect and assist the public in all matters relating to the law.

“All this means that the council is expected to state its legal position as provided for in the Federal Constitution, federal laws and state enactments,” he said.

FMT has contacted council chairman Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor for his response.

Meanwhile, R Kengadharan who has been a lawyer since 1993 said any Bar played a positive role in civil society apart from that of other interest groups.

“The council is a powerful force that constantly advocates the cause of human rights. The sudden silence of the Bar now is highly questionable,” he said, adding that it plays an integral role in promoting justice.