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Pros and cons of proposed new body to represent lawyers Print E-mail
Thursday, 17 May 2012

by Alan Ting

KUALA LUMPUR, May 17 (Bernama) - Is another body necessary to represent lawyers in the country? The answers are yes and no.

Yes, as pointed out by Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee, that there is no issue in setting up another body to represent lawyers with a particular interest.

Examples are the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association and Catholic Lawyers Society.

But no, if another body is established to set standards, regulate and issue practising certificates.

Lim said only the Bar Council was empowered under the Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976 to act.

He was reported to have said that previously, there was an attempt to amend the Legal Profession Act (LPA) to allow for the establishment of an Academy of Law, but this was strongly opposed by the Bar Council in 1996 and 2002.

Given the above scenario, it is not surprising that some lawyers have mixed opinions on the matter as they point out that there should be only one body to regulate the role of lawyers.

Gerakan deputy president Datuk Chang Ko Youn, who is also the party's Legal Bureau chairman, also disagrees that another regulatory body should be formed to represent lawyers as the existing Bar Council is the current certified legal body.

"We may disagree with the conduct of the Bar Council, but we are not in favour of having another bar council. Those who don't agree with the Bar Council can come out openly to criticise it or even challenge the existing office- bearers in the Bar Council's election, but not by breaking up the Bar Council," he said.

Chang feels that efforts to start another regulatory body would not have arisen if the Bar Council has taken a non-partisan line, but judging from the way the current Bar has been handling things, it clearly shows that it is taking sides.

Senior lawyer Roger Tan also said that should another body be set up with the same regulatory function, it would create a conflict.

"In other countries, they have legal or law academies but they don't exercise the function of regulators. For example, in Singapore, there is an Academy of Law, but it mainly organises social functions, which allow law students and academicians to join. But, the Law Society of Singapore is still the regulatory body for lawyers (in Singapore)," he said.

"However, to me, the issue of having another body arose because of the one- sided motions (during the recent Bar Council's extraordinary general meeting). If you pass one-sided motions, this is what you get," he added.

"I think most lawyers are from the silent majority. Can't blame them not to turn up at the EGM. Why don't they do a referendum? The Bar Council can send out ballot papers on the motions. If the lawyers can't come, they can submit the ballot papers," said a Kuala Lumpur-based lawyer who did not wish to be identified.

However, some lawyers when contacted at random said any change should come from within the Bar Council itself.

Those who were not happy should table a vote of no-confidence against the existing Bar Council's office-bearers, they said.

No need to set up another regulatory body, they said, adding that they were also sceptical of the proposal to set up an Academy of Law, citing that previous attempts in 1996 and 2002 were withdrawn after objections from the Bar Council.

The Bar Council had then contended that the functions outlined in the bill were too wide and that it could be freely interpreted that those functions could usurp the power and role of the existing Malaysian Bar.

PPP president Datuk M. Kayveas, who was the deputy minister in the Prime Minister's Department involved in the Academy of Law bill then, said in light of current events, there might be a need to re-look at it.

He told Bernama that the bill was withdrawn following a discussion with the Bar Council when the latter agreed to focus more on welfare and on improving the professionalism of the Bar.

Currently, the Bar Council is opposed to the third attempt to set up a law academy as it claims the government feels threatened by an independent Bar.

But there are also lawyers who believe that the issue will not arise if the current Bar Council had taken a more objective, neutral and balanced stance at its recent EGM.

If one were to look across the Causeway, some lawyers revealed that the creation of the Singapore Law Academy came about after the relationship between the Singapore Law Society and the government turned sour following the society's opposition to a legislation to restrict the circulation of foreign publications critical of Singapore's politics.

The bill on the new Academy of Law was passed by the Singapore parliament on Aug 11, 1988 and came into force on Nov 1 the same year.

Singapore's prime minister then, Lee Kuan Yew made these remarks when debating on the bill in the Singapore parliament:"It is my job as prime minister in charge of the government to put a stop to politicking in professional bodies.

"If you want to politicise, you form your own think you can be smarter than the government and outsmart it, well, if you win, you form the government. If I win, we have a new Law Society. It is as simple as that."

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