In our Selected Exhortations category, we republish interesting stuff such as must-read articles and essays not originally written exclusively for the blawg, and which have come to our attention. Please feel free to email [email protected] if you would like to reproduce your writing, but first follow our Writer’s Guide here. A version of this article was first published in The Star iPad application.
In the aftermath of the Extraordinary General Meeting of the Malaysian Bar held on 11 May 2012, many quarters trained their reticles onto the Bar Council and began to fire salvos. They claim, amongst others, that by passing the resolution condemning police brutality that occurred during Bersih 3.0, the Bar Council has lost its integrity, involved itself in politics and all manner of negative things.
Before we proceed further, allow me to first correct this common misconception that has plagued politicians, media and the common man alike; not all lawyers are members of the Bar Council. In fact, some lawyers even labour under the same misconception; I once met a lawyer of 20 years in practice (who is incidentally a Member of Parliament) who claimed that he is a “member of the Bar Council” for 20 years.
To understand the difference, we must go back to the Act of Parliament that created these entities: The Legal Profession Act. The Act creates the statutory body known as the Malaysian Bar, comprising of some 14,000 lawyers practicing in West Malaysia. Yes, the Malaysian Bar is a statutory body and not an NGO. It is not governed by the Societies Act and is not under the jurisdiction of the Registrar of Societies.
The Act provides that the purpose of the Malaysian Bar shall be, amongst others, to represent, protect and assist members or of the legal profession in Malaysia and to promote in any proper manner the interests of the legal profession in Malaysia. These are the ‘internal’ duties of the Malaysian Bar; the duties it owes to its members.
Apart from these, the Bar is also tasked to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour and to protect and assist the public in all matters touching ancillary or incidental to the law. We know these as the ‘external’ duties that it owes to the public.
The Bar Council is responsible for the management of the affairs of the Malaysian Bar and for the proper performance of the Bar’s functions. The Bar Council consists of 36 practising lawyers; the immediate President and Vice President of the Malaysian Bar, two representatives from each of 11 state Bar committees and 12 members elected via ballot papers.
Got that? Good. Now, the EGM on 11 May 2012 was called by the Bar Council. However, the resolution that was passed is a resolution by the Malaysian Bar, not the Bar Council. It is the body of practicing lawyers that passed the resolution, not the Bar Council.
Therein lies the main flaw of these attacks. The purported partiality of the Bar Council in passing the resolution is actually something validly passed by the Malaysian Bar. You can shoot each and any of the 36 Bar Council members as having a political agenda, but your criticisms should actually be leveled at the Malaysian Bar as a whole. Are you willing to claim that individual members of the Malaysian Bar all have a political agenda?
Just like anything else in Malaysia, the most effective way of dealing with an issue is to shoot the messenger, rather than addressing the message. In order to avoid having to address the issues raised at the EGM, the Bar Council is attacked. You attack the messenger, you dilute the message.
So we find disingenuous ideas such as creating an alternative Bar. A Cabinet Minister mooted a Law Academy as an alternative to the Malaysian Bar, yet read the fine print and you will discover that this Law Academy is for non-practising graduates of law. Do not take my word for it, take the Minister’s word. So if you want to be part of this Law Academy (if it ever takes off), you have to stop practicing as a lawyer. So this is hardly an alternative to the Malaysian Bar or the Bar Council.
Of course, there is that call for the Bar Council to dissolve itself and register itself as a political party. This is a nothing but political statement and we should treat it as such. The Bar Council is a creature of statute and cannot dissolve itself into anything nor can it register itself as a political party. I do hope the statement was made in jest, as I shudder to think that anyone would have such a fundamentally flawed understanding of the Legal Profession Act.
Some quarters clearly do not like the Bar criticising what the government does. According to their logic, criticising the government automatically makes one pro-opposition and anti-government. Yet the Bar criticises the government not because it is pro-opposition or anti-government, but because it is pro-justice, pro-rule of law and pro-constitution. The Bar has a duty to speak up in the face of injustice by the Act of Parliament that breathes life to into it.
I can actually offer a much easier (and far less incredulous) solution to the problem these people have with the Bar Council, especially for lawyers. If you are unhappy with what the Bar Council has done then propose a motion of no confidence against the Bar’s leadership. This has been done before in the past and can be done again. Even better, you should offer yourself (or your proxy?) as a candidate for the Bar Council. Get enough people and take over the Bar’s leadership. Make it into a government fan club if you so wish. One of the Bar’s most ferocious critics on Twitter is a Member of Parliament (whom I suspect has never read the Legal Profession Act before) – yet when such a course is suggested to him, his answer was that it would not be ‘fun’. Oh well, a solution has been offered.
The Bar Council has nothing to hide. Apart from baseless allegations, there is not one shred of evidence offered as proof of the Bar Council’s alleged partiality and that it is full of political opportunists. The fact of the matter is the Malaysian Bar passed a resolution pertaining to a very real and important issue, and one which keeps cropping up with no solution in sight. You can continue to shoot the messenger. But deal with the message you must!