Azalina: Govt may outsource legal aid to private lawyers

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The government is looking at the possibility of outsourcing legal aid to private practising lawyers so that more individuals who cannot afford legal fees will be assisted.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Law and Institutional Reforms) Azalina Othman Said announced this when attending an institutional reform workshop in Kuala Lumpur today.

The government will do so with a review of the current legal aid system, the de facto law minister said.

Azalina added: “The legal service is an important component of justice, but not every Malaysian can bear legal costs.

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“The Legal Aid Department and National Legal Aid Foundation (NLAF) will be reviewed to improve the quality of services and access to justice.”

The Legal Aid Act 1971 will be amended if necessary, she said.

At a press conference later, Azalina said outsourcing legal aid to practising lawyers is among the matters the government has in mind.

“We cannot put all the burden on the Legal Aid Department alone. I want to look into a structure so that certain cases that the department is representing should be allowed to outsource to practising lawyers,” she said.

This may also include civil cases apart from criminal cases, she said.

She noted that the government is currently under-staffed and its lawyers are underpaid and overworked.

“I think lawyers out there don’t mind doing work on behalf of the government too,” added the Pengerang MP.

Outsourcing legal aid is one of the proposals brought up during the series of engagements between the government and various stakeholders on institutional reform.

The government is currently looking at reviewing outdated laws, improving governance and institutions, as well as strengthening the criminal justice system and human rights.

She said the findings from various engagement sessions will be documented and analysed before being presented to the cabinet.

She expected these proposals could be obtained as early as March this year.

Meanwhile, Azalina declined to comment on Attorney-General Idrus Harun’s proposal for the government to make the Bahasa Malaysia edition of the Federal Constitution as the authoritative version of the supreme law in Malaysia.

“I would not simply give a response without studying the reason, the justification, the whole concept of why he said that. I did not receive anything (from Idrus) yet,” she said.

“I saw (Idrus’ proposal) on the open source – the news – but I didn’t see him to ask what is the justification. So, I can’t comment on that yet,” she said.

While attending the Legal Year 2023 event last week, Idrus said the Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) planned to propose to the government that the prescription of the Federal Constitution in the national language be the authoritative text in line with Article 160B of the Federal Constitution.

He said this is subject to the approval of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong.

The Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST) raised concern about the AG’s proposal as this could impact cases where one parent converted his or her child or children to another religion.

Citing the case of M Indira Gandhi as an example, MCCBCHST noted that the Federal Court ruled that in Article 12(4), the singular word “parent” included the plural “parents”.

“But the BM translation of the Federal Constitution provides: ‘Bagi maksud Fasal (3) agama seseorang yang di-bawah umur lapan belas tahun hendaklah ditetapkan oleh ibu atau bapanya atau penjaganya.’ (The religion of a minor below the age of 18 must be determined by the mother, father, or guardian),” said MCCBCHST. – Malaysiakini