Bar Calls for Resignation of Home Minister and IGP

More than 1,400 lawyers attended the EGM today at the PJ Civic Centre. To be honest, I could not be certain to discount the possibility of there being a police presence at the hall. But all was clear, and the EGM easily hit quorum very early on and I could see that the hall was completely packed to the rafters. Lawyers were virtually hanging over the first level balcony.As set out in my earlier post, 5 legal aid lawyers were arrested when they were present outside the police station trying to get access to their clients. During the EGM, we heard first hand from the arrested lawyers and the other lawyers who tried to assist them, what occurred on 7 May 2009.

1. When the 5 legal aid lawyers were trying to get access to their clients, they were blatantly lied to by the police that their clients had signed the forms dispensing with the need to have legal representation. This is a lie as it is clear from the malaysiakini video on youtube, that the arrested individuals could be seen calling out for their lawyers.

2. When the 5 legal aid lawyers tried to ask the police officer, what were the reasonable grounds for detaining their clients, the police officer refused to answer. Clearly, the police just had no answer to this question.

3. The 5 lawyers were then arrested and then put into a cell. They had to remove all their belongings and items of clothing, and then change into the lock-up clothing. When brought for questioning and brought from place to place, the 4 female lawyers were handcuffed. It is as if these lawyers were a great danger to society, amongst the many snatch thievs, mat rempits, rapists, burglars out there which the police never seem to be able to catch, these lawyers were truly big dangers to society that they had to be handcuffed and locked up.

4. Ravin, who is the Chairperson for the KL Legal Aid Centre, was transferred from the original Brickfields police station to another police station. He was not informed of what station he was being transferred to. The many lawyers outside the Brickfields station could not get any information as to where Ravin was being shifted to. Not a single officer could, or wanted to, answer these queries.

5. When Ravin was being questioned by the police, the police insulted him, got angry at him when he refused to answer questions, made fun of his clothing, made fun of his clothing. No respect was accorded to the fact that in the end, these lawyers were merely officers of the Court and carrying out their legal duties to try to get access to their clients.

6. The lawyers were in the end released on police bail the next day, at around 3pm. Even when the President of the Malaysian Bar walked into the police station to try to speak with the OCPD, one of the OCPD’s first few words were, shouting at the top of his voice in front of all his subordinates “Get out of my balai!”. There was no need for the shouting and there was no need for the rude words.

At the EGM, the members of the Bar clearly were furious at the abuse of police powers. While the original motion merely read for the calling upon of the IGP and other forms of complaints, the members unanimously approved for the amendment of the Motion to call for the resignation of the IGP and the Home Minister. Further, the overwhelming sentiment on the floor is that the lawyers must walk again. There must be a public demonstration of why the arrest of the lawyers was wrong.

Also, any member of the public, not just the lawyer, could go through the same system. You may be arrested, the grounds of your arrest is not informed to you, you are denied the right of legal representation and your own family members may not know where you are. There has to be a change in the system. The laws are clear, both in the Federal Constitution and the Criminal Procedure Code, but the police are blatantly breaking these laws.

This is a video of Ragunath Kesavan, President of the Malaysian bar, at the press conference after the EGM.

 

Bar EGM: Condemn the Arrest of the 5 Legal Aid Lawyers

I will be there at the Bar EGM this Friday to vote for the motion to condemn and denounce the arrest of the lawyers on 7 May 2009. Have a watch of the video to see how a peaceful candlelight vigil led to the arrest of several individuals. The Legal Aid lawyers were then present at the police station in order to represent these arrested individuals. Not only were they denied access to these individuals, they were then arrested on what appears to be the charge of ‘illegal assembly.’

The wording of the Motion sets out the whole sequence of events.

The Motion

 
Whereas on the night of 7 May 2009, five members of the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre, Fadiah Nadwa binti Fikri (Secretary), Murnie Hidayah binti Anuar, Puspawati binti Rosman, Ravinder Singh Dhalliwal (Chairperson) and Syuhaini binti Safwan (collectively known as the “LAC Lawyers”), in their capacity as Advocates & Solicitors, had requested the police at the Brickfields Police Station for access to the detained persons who were arrested that same night whilst holding a candlelight vigil at the same Police Station over the recent arrest of political scientist Wong Chin Huat.

Whereas Article 5(3) of the Federal Constitution entrenches the fundamental right of a person to consult and be defended by the legal practitioner of his/her choice. Further, sub-sections 28A(2) to (7) of the Criminal Procedure Code (“CPC”) set out in detail the rights of arrested persons including their right to communicate and consult with a legal practitioner of their choice.

Whereas the Police denied the LAC Lawyers access to the detained persons, the Police, without any reasonable grounds, proceeded to arrest the LAC Lawyers and only released them on police bail the following day at around 3 p.m., notwithstanding the repeated requests by other lawyers for their immediate release.

NOW IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED THAT THE MALAYSIAN BAR:

1. Strongly condemns and denounces the wrongful arrest, detention and interrogation of the LAC Lawyers.

2. Strongly condemns and denounces the blatant transgression of the rule of law and the constitutional right of every person to counsel and access to justice.

3. Strongly condemns the unnecessary arrest and detention of those exercising their constitutional right to assemble peaceably.

4. Strongly condemns the arbitrary, improper and frequent resort by the police to section 28A(8) of the Criminal Procedure Code, thus denying an arrested person access to counsel and making the right provided under section 28A(3) meaningless.

5. Strongly condemns and denounces the appalling treatment of the LAC lawyers and all those held in custody, including compelling them to wear lock up uniforms and unnecessarily handcuffing them.

6. Strongly condemns and denounces the Police for deliberately refusing to disclose to their family or their lawyers any information in relation to the LAC lawyers after their arrest, including their location and their next course of action.

7. Calls upon the Inspector-General of Police to take immediate disciplinary action against the police officers responsible for the unlawful arrest of the LAC Lawyers and in particular, the OCPD of the Brickfields police station for this shameful incident.

8. Calls upon the Inspector-General of Police to take full responsibility for, and to explain, this gross abuse of police power.

9. Calls upon the Government to be committed to and to uphold the Rule of Law as enshrined in the Federal Constitution.

10. Reiterates its previous calls on the Government to establish the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) in its original form to serve as an independent external oversight mechanism.

11. Calls on the Government of Malaysia to uphold and defend the fundamental rights of advocates and solicitors to discharge their responsibilities to their clients in an environment free from threats and intimidation and unhindered by law enforcement agencies.

No to Stand Alone Foreign Firms?

The Bar Council has today come out stronglyagainst the Government allowing foreign firms to set up stand-alone branches here in Malaysia.The Bar Council is understandably taking the position that there should always be quid pro quo in that the foreign firms get to enter a new legal market, while the local legal industry gets to benefit from some form of knowledge transfer. Hence, the Council’s insistence that a joint law venture framework be implemented. On the other hand, the Government and the Bank Negara wants to keep Malaysia at the cutting edge of Islamic finance, and having major foreign firms (mainly from London) set up practice here will help the industry and also help to bring in their clients.

I’ve never quite believed the concept of the clients moving to regions where their service provider heads to. The reason why such foreign firms are keen on establishing themselves here must be to tap the pool of clients here in Malaysia and the surrounding region.

Perhaps the other aspect of this ongoing ‘tussle’ (there really hasn’t been much development on this issue since 2006) is that foreign firms will be unlikely to want to have a joint venture with a local firm. It will be more attractive for these firms to maintain their profit sharing arrangements and have complete autonomy on how they want to run the firm.

I am not quite sure on which side of the fence I stand on this. From the perspective of the legal industry, I am not sure whether our legal market is developed enough to compete with the foreign law firms. Of course this issue is confined mainly to the practice of Islamic finance, which will only affect several firms which practice in this area. This partial liberalisation will not affect most of the other litigators and even corporate lawyers.

However, without the benefit of some knowledge-transfer arrangement, or easing in period (akin to the long period of time where Singapore implemented their joint law venture), the local established Islamic finance law practitioners are unlikely to benefit. There may be no guarantee that young lawyers practicing in Islamic finance will also be able to be employed at such foreign firms.

eLawyer Law Conference at UM

I attended the eLawyer Law Conferenceon Saturday, after rushing down from the Bar AGM in the morning. OK, didn’t quite attend the Bar AGM, more like just signing my name, grabbing the Annual Report and then rushing down to UM.This was the first time I’ve ever been a VIP at any event. The experience was complete with a corsage being pinned on me, and then an usher quickly bringing me to the packed lecture hall, and then pointed to the front row reserved for the VIPs. I was there mainly because I was one of the judges for the eLawyer Legal Blog Writing competition, the results of which would be announced at the end of the conference.

Made it there just in time to see Cheng Leong start his Q&A session, and the audience was very active in asking questions, and you could see that there were a lot of queries from the bloggers out there. I think the bulk of the audience were bloggers, and their questions ranged from copyright issues to whether they could prevent someone placing up a picture on facebook. Cheng Leong answered the questions like a true pro I thought, but you can read his blog for how he was feeling.

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Next up was Nizam with his talk on defamation and blogging, where he highlighted all the significant cases in the news recently and then set out the law on defamation. His Q&A session was buzzing as well, with lots of questions being posed and the MCs had to also cut this Q&A short.

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Some of the VIPs, including Khairul Anuar and Eddie Law

After this, was essentially the prize giving for the eLawyer Legal Blog writing competition. Fahri Azzat spoke on behalf of the judges to give some feedback. Essentially, the judges were going to reward originality of thought in the blog writing competition. I then spoke very briefly on my thoughts about the blogosphere here in Malaysia, and its interaction with the law and the legal profession. Prizes were then given out for the consolation prize winners and then the top three prizes.

I thought it was a well-run conference, albeit a half-day conference. Good start for eLawyer and hopefully this can be expanded in the next installment. Will look forward to more sessions, including panel discussions and an increase in interactivity among the speakers on a panel and more importantly, an increase in interactivity with the audience members.

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eLawyer Law Conference 2009

eLawyer will be holding its first ever Law Conference 2009 entitled “Blogging and Law”.

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It is from 9.30am – 12.30pm on Saturday 14 March 2009. I will be attending it but it looks like I will have to miss out on the Malaysian Bar AGM held on the same day.

Two of my friends, Cheng Leong and Nizam will be speaking at the conference on very interesting topics.

In conjunction with the conference, eLawyer will also be announcing the results of its legal blog writing competition. I sat as a judge and I have sifted through all the entries so I am looking forward to seeing who won.

ALB Report on Malaysian Legal Market

ALB featured an article looking back on the Malaysian legal market as well as the future ahead with the economic slowdown. The article touches on the long-mentioned entry of foreign law firms into the legal market, especially in the area of Islamic finance. I know Bank Negara has been trying to push for allowing foreign firms to come in for the practice area of Islamic finance but there seems to be little progress on that respect.Another aspect of the article covered the ongoing problem of retaining legal talent. I recognise the difficulty in ensuring that legal talent continues to remain in Malaysia, and I also wrote about this before.One of the lawyers in the ALB article spoke about consolidation of law firms. I find it difficult to see the role that the Bar Council can take on in forcing such a consolidation. I highly doubt the Malaysian Bar would pass any such resolution at a general meeting to advance such a proposal.

What I hope to see are higher entry standards into the legal profession. The archaic CLP must be phased out and with some form of common entry examination. I can see the commercial advantages of a consolidation of the legal market, although this must not affect the ease of access to legal services to the public. The market may then follow the UK market with its ‘Magic Circle’ firms specialising in commercial matters, along with the other near-Magic Circle commercial firms, as well as the national and other High Street firms delivering services relating to conveyancing, general litigation, probate, personal injury claims, etc.