Following its interview with LoyarBurokker Edmund Bon where he called the Bar Council toothless, Free Malaysia Today now reports on the Bar Council Office Bearers’ responses.
By S Rutra
FMT KUALA LUMPUR: Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan, who has been accused of leading a toothless set-up, said there was no need to sink fangs in issues all the time.
The approach, be it aggressive or passive, depended on the leadership style of the political masters in power.
During the tenure of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad, he said, the council’s existence was ignored. But this changed when Abdullah Ahmad Badawi took over the reins.
“Abdullah provided room for the council to play its role by inviting us to sit on several committees and this policy is now being continued by Najib Tun Razak,” he told FMT.
Ragunath was responding to council member Edmund Bon’s interview with FMT, where the latter had criticised the council of being toothless and not championing the rights of the people.
The chairman said members like Bon were entitled to express their views and he was prepared to accept constructive criticism.
“He is not the first and won’t be the last to criticise me and the Bar, but we will continue to serve our members within our resources and scope available to us,” he said.
Ragunath clarified that policy decisions or the councils’s stand on certain issues were made collectively and not decided by him alone.
“Generally, all council members believe in continuity where we remain committed to our struggle by looking into the needs and welfare of our members without sidelining any individual,” he added.
According to Ragunath, the coucil should not function like a political party or human rights organisation, and as its president, he needed to strike a balance.
‘Remember, we invited Anwar’
Also in defence, vice-president Lim Chee Wee said the council always strived to act and speak without fear or favour in the interest of justice and its members.
He stressed that the council never shied away from speaking out against the authorities, and cited a press statement critical of Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail’s conduct in relation to the suicide note in the Teoh Beng Hock inquest.
Furthermore, he said the council even elected to invite Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim to the Malaysian Law Conference, knowing it would not go down well with government leaders.
The council, he added, had also complained about the slow pace of court proceedings, and under current Chief Justice Zaki Azmi, there had been substantial changes to improve the disposal of cases, appointment of more judges from the Bar, audiovisual recording, increased administrative efficiencies and much more.
“There is constant consultation between the Bar and the Bench to iron out disagreements and we don’t always get what we want, but we do not give up trying,” he said.
He said the council welcomed suggestions and criticisms, and agreed with Bon on reviving the walkabout in all states to reconnect with members and the matter would be discussed at the council’s meeting on Saturday.
‘Just because we don’t march…’
Meanwhile, Bar Council secretary George Varughese said he did not agree with Bon’s hard-hitting views.
“Just because we have not marched after the ‘Walk for Justice’, it doesn’t mean the council fears taking difficult positions or has become docile.
“There are many ways to address issues; marching is one, but if we continue to march for each and every issue, then these marches will become toothless as well,” he told FMT.
He said issues could be addressed through various other means, such as holding dialogues and discussions or through working committees.
Former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan also dismissed Bon’s criticisms as being unjustified.
“I have the highest regard for Bon. He is one of the most hardworking and committed members of the council and there is no doubt in my mind that there was absolutely no malice in what he said,” she told FMT.
Ambiga pointed out that the counci’s refusal to bow down to pressure with regard to inviting Anwar for the Malaysian Law Conference was testimony to its gumption.
“As for the lawyers, the council has stood up time and again for those who were arrested, hauled up for questioning, for lawyers in the proposed no fault liability scheme and much more.
“Then there is the mammoth task of revamping the insurance scheme for our members, an onerous project undertaken by the president himself over the past few years. It will ultimately bring substantial benefit to our members,” she added.