Tourism and Culture Minister Nazri Aziz has been reported saying that there is no need for the government to interfere with the Bar Council in these liberal times, despite its often critical stance against government policies.
“The world is becoming more liberal, this is not the time (for the government) to clamp down on groups…
“What damage has the Bar Council done, criticising the government? We are still here, a strong government,” Malay Mail Online today quoted the tourism and culture minister saying.
Nazri, who was formerly the cabinet minister in charge of law, told the online news site that he is against planned amendments to the Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976, which can be seen as government interference that may restrict the Bar Council’s independence.
He argued that the Bar Council should be allowed to conduct its own affairs, adding that it was “all right” if it was viewed as critical of the government, as long as the Bar did so within the confines of the law.
“How they (Bar Council) want to run their affairs, we should leave it to them.
“Let it be… we cannot impose what we want,” Nazri said, adding that he is against the government’s plan to plant its own representatives in the Bar Council.
“I don’t even agree to the government appointing two representatives to the Bar Council, what for? You think two persons can control the majority?” he was reportedly asking.
Amendments draw brickbats
Nazri was commenting on the government’s plan to amend the LPA, which will see the government given the right to appoint representatives to the Bar Council, change its election process and composition, and increase the required quorum for the Bar’s general meetings.
The amendments are seen to be detrimental to the independence and effectiveness of the Bar Council and the running of the Bar.
The proposed amendments were met with brickbats from legal professional bodies at home and in the region, as they see it as encroachment of government control into the currently independent body that oversees Malaysia’s legal profession.
The bill relating to this was initially scheduled to be tabled when Parliament convenes for the budget sitting next month, although there is no confirmation yet.
The government, and the present minister in charge of law, Azalina Othman Said, have defended the proposed amendments as not to control the Bar Council or interfere with the Bar, but to resolve bread and butter issues and to ensure cordial relations with law practitioners.
DAP welcomes Nazri’s statement
Meanwhile, Ipoh Barat MP M Kulasegaran said Nazri’s statement is “most welcome news”.
The lawyer, who is also DAP national vice-chairperson, argued that the amendments were meant to “curtail the powers of the Bar Council” and should be dropped.
“The government must not interfere in the Bar Council’s self-regulation and internal management and it should drop the planned amendments altogether.
“The government should just forge as partner of democracy of the Bar Council,” Kulasegaran said.
He said if the government genuinely wanted to help the Bar, it could, for example, dispense with the current charges levied on matters it takes to court when representing the poor and the marginalised.