Bar President: Thanks to GE14, Malaysian Bar Narrowly Avoided Being Muzzled

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Harapan government’s efforts beginning to bear fruit, with Malaysia having risen five rungs to 51st among 126 countries in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2019.

If not for the historic 14th general election (GE14), the previous BN government would have defanged the outspoken Malaysian Bar with proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA).

Luckily, the Bar dodged the bullet and is now playing a role in contributing to the ongoing legal reforms spearheaded by the Pakatan Harapan government, outgoing Bar president George Varughese said.

The veteran legal practitioner said that if BN had won the election of May 9 last year, the proposed LPA amendments would have been carried out to lessen the Bar’s influence.

“There was an imminent and real threat to the Malaysian Bar through amendments to the LPA, which would have posed a heavy burden on my shoulder during my tenure as (Bar) president.

“If the election had been the other way around, I am certain the BN government would have gone on to implement the proposed changes to the LPA.

“If that had happened, the independence of the Bar would have been severely diluted and affect our role, not only as lawyers but also in serving the public.

“I was definitely elated with the outcome of GE14, especially with the new government’s emphasis on the rule of law.

Choo Choy May

“This gave new hope not only to Malaysians but also to the Malaysian Bar,” Varughese said yesterday, admitting that he himself was pleasantly surprised with Harapan’s electoral victory that brought in a change in the administration, which has not occurred in more than 60 years.

He was speaking in an interview in conjunction with the Bar’s coming 73rd annual general meeting (AGM) tomorrow (Saturday, March 16), which will see the election of new office bearers.

Varughese said GE14 also brought in the warming of the relationships among the Bar, the bench (judiciary) and the attorney-general, following the appointment of veteran lawyer Tommy Thomas (photo) as attorney-general and chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Richard Malanjum as chief justice.

“The relationship among the bench, the bar and AGC (Attorney-General’s Chambers) has improved by leaps and bounds.

“Our relationship with these bodies were strained after the Bar initiated a judicial review challenging the decision (by then attorney-general Mohamed Apandi Ali) to exonerate the former PM (then prime minister Najib Abdul Razak).

“We never had a single meeting with the previous AG. Former president of the Bar Steven Thiru wrote to the AG (Apandi) seeking meeting but we never got one.

“When the new AG (Thomas) was appointed, we had a meeting with him immediately after his appointment.

“It was a fruitful meeting and many things were discussed, such as proposed amendments to improve the LPA as the AG (Thomas) had proposed that we relook at the whole LPA and come up with a new Act to govern (the legal profession),” Varughese said.

He noted that unlike the previous administration, where members of the Bar were not invited to judicial elevation (of judges) ceremonies, there was now more consultation between office bearers of the Bar and the current CJ (Justice Malanjum).

He said the present CJ was open-minded to the Bar’s suggestions for legal reforms and gave his assurance that the said reforms were being undertaken.

Asked what he hoped to see after his turn as Bar president is over, Varughese said he would like to see the proposed amendments to the LPA to be tabled in Parliament.

“This would ensure that the Bar will be a truly independent and self-regulating body, allowing it to continue to perform its duty as it always has all these years, without the fear of being muzzled by the government.”

He pointed out that a certain degree of government control is still necessary for a well-functioning country, but that it must be appropriate, depending on the field.

“Government control is needed but it should be proportional in whatever area we look at.

“But too much of such control, such as too much restriction, would not bode well for a democracy such as Malaysia,” he said.

Varughese said that the Harapan government’s efforts were beginning to bear fruit, with Malaysia having risen five rungs to 51st among 126 countries in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2019.

“I think this is a step in the right direction, But these are still baby steps, for much more can be done to strengthen rule of law,” he said. – Malaysiakini