The Malaysian Bar has a public role to play and cannot be limited to managing lawyers’ livelihood issues, president Steven Thiru said today.
“This is important because when people talk to me about the Bar being political, they don’t understand this, but where does that societal role come from?
“Look at Section 42, in particular Section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act, it says, in no uncertain terms, that the Malaysian Bar is to uphold the cause of justice without regards to its own interest or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour. That is what we call a rule of law mandate,” Steven said in a forum discussing the repercussions of the controversial proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976.
Though not explicitly naming anyone, he appeared to be criticising de facto Law Minister Datuk Seri Azalina Othman Said’s remarks last month that the proposed amendments to the LPA would also be able to address “bread and butter” issues for legal practitioners.
Azalina also said that she had advised the Bar Council to prioritise the affairs of its 17,000 members, including issues such as the introduction of a Common Bar Exam (CBE) to serve as a uniform qualification standard for those wishing to be lawyers; limiting lawyers’ liability; and the lack of English proficiency among some lawyers.
However, Steven said that to solely care for the welfare of Malaysian Bar members above all other matters would be an assault on the LPA itself.
He said Section 42(1)(a) of the LPA lists 14 objectives of the Malaysian Bar that cover giving views on legislation, legal aid, and societal principles, as well as practice and professional issues.
“We play a mixed role. So if people come and tell us look you’re the Bar, you should only concentrate on bread and butter issues, you should only concentrate on matters which concern your members and their practice, I’m sorry, we have a problem.
“If we do that, we breach our objects because our objects do not allow us just to be concentrating and looking at practice matters. It requires us to look at both practice matters as well as rule of law, law reform, legal aid issues. That’s what our constitution says and the Legal Profession Act is our constitution,” Steven said.
On May 27, Steven issued a circular to Malaysian Bar members on the proposed LPA changes, informing them of Putrajaya’s plans to have the minister in charge of legal affairs appoint two government representatives to the Bar Council, to change the Bar Council’s election process and composition, and to increase the required quorum for the Bar’s general meetings.
The proposal for the LPA amendments had included giving the minister in charge of legal affairs the power to make rules and regulations on the conduct of the Bar Council elections.