Deputy law minister Mas Ermieyati Samsudin has apologised to lawyers gathered at Padang Merbok for the “inconvenience” over the Malaysian Bar’s “Walk for judicial independence”.
She accepted a memorandum from the Bar and said she would hand it over to Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and law minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar.
Bar president Karen Cheah, who shared a hug with Mas Ermieyati upon her arrival at Padang Merbok, hoped that the memorandum would be submitted to Ismail as soon as possible.
“We want to thank each and every one of you for coming. We are going to disperse now,” Cheah told the crowd, estimated at more than 500, gathered there.
Earlier, addressing the lawyers and their supporters, Mas Ermieyati said Cheah was an old friend of hers, and thanked them for cooperating with the authorities.
“I apologise for the inconvenience. I will explain the memorandum to the prime minister and the law minister,” she said.
“May justice and (the independence of) our judiciary continue to be upheld.”
Bar Council secretary Anand Raj said the memorandum called on Putrajaya to uphold judicial independence and to make the law clearer on this matter, if necessary.
Earlier, negotiations with the police broke down after they only wanted to allow 20 lawyers to march to the Parliament building to hand over the memorandum, which the Bar rejected.
The lawyers tried to go ahead with the march but failed to break through the police barricade formed at both ends of the Padang Merbok car park.
The lawyers gathered as early as 9am for the “Walk for judicial independence”, with several carrying placards that read “Jom Jalan Judicial Independence” and “Walk the talk, Judicial Independence”.
At close to 10am, Bar Council committee chairperson Roger Chan took to a makeshift stage and rallied the lawyers with cries to free the judiciary.
Chan noted the police presence and stressed that to gather and march is a fundamental right for all.
“This is a fundamental right. We have to do our duty and they (police) have to ensure this duty is carried out in an orderly manner,” he said.
Chan also led the two failed negotiations with the police.
The gathering dispersed at around 11.30am while a smaller crowd headed for a walk towards Parliament.
The Malaysian Bar’s resolution to hold the protest was approved by over 600 members present at an extraordinary general meeting in May.
The protest came amid rising concern over “intimidation” towards the judiciary, particularly over the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) investigation into Court of Appeal judge Nazlan Mohd Ghazali, who was one of the judges that found former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak guilty of embezzling funds from a 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) subsidiary.
Cheah said today’s protest is meant to send a loud message that the attacks should be taken as a covert attempt to intimidate the judiciary and overrule the conviction, and must not be tolerated.
Meanwhile, former Malaysian Bar president Ambiga Sreenevasan said the judiciary must be free and allowed to do its duty to uphold its independence.
“It’s very simple. We don’t want anyone to weaken the judiciary.
“We want to send a message. We can see that people are trying to undermine the judiciary. Stop it. We are not going to keep quiet.”
She said the walk is legal as the Bar had sent out the notices and police were informed.
“Freedom of assembly is a constitutional right,” Ambiga added.
Commonwealth Lawyers Association (Australasia) vice-president Steven Thiru said they take the independence of judiciary very seriously.
“We received representation from the Malaysian Bar on what is happening here.
Thiru said the association has expressed its support and solidarity with the Bar.
“They (Malaysian Bar) are not standing alone. They are supported by the international community.”
Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat in April said criticism towards judges and the judiciary has gone overboard.
While judges are open to criticism, especially concerning high profile cases, the recent attacks are too much, she added.
“The judiciary has been dealing with high profile and public interest cases of late.
“It is normal for judges to receive criticism from parties who are unhappy with the decisions of the courts.
“However, the criticism levelled at judges and the judiciary, in my opinion, has gone overboard.”
Among those present at the protest were former attorney-general Tommy Thomas and politicians from parties like DAP, PKR and Muda.