Some 17,000 lawyers in the peninsular risk not being able to go to the courts if a government proposal to compel at least 25 per cent of its members attend its annual general meeting (AGM) becomes law.
Malaysian Bar President Steven Thiru said a quorum of about 4,000 members was impossible to achieve in order to start the AGM and have the Bar Council to take office.
“If there is no Bar Council, no annual certificate can be issued and members cannot obtain the practising certificate” he said in a recent interview with the National Human Rights Society.
The council has to first issue an annual certificate to lawyers, who then obtain their practising certificates from the Registrar of the High Court of Malaya to represent clients in courts.
At present, the quorum required for the Malaysian Bar AGM to proceed is only 500 members.
Steven said the AGM would have to be held in an outdoor venue if the 4,000 quorum is imposed but “that is going to be a near impossible number to achieve”.
He said a quorum was merely a comfortable number for organisers to start their meetings.
“Currently, as the AGM progresses, we see between 1,500 and 2,000 members eventually attend the meeting,” he said, adding that the proposal to have a higher number was a sort of “punishment”.
Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali had said the government’s decision to amend the LPA was to make the Bar Council more “transparent, democratic and to return it to its original purpose”.
Bar Council members have been going on a nationwide roadshow to explain to lawyers that the proposed amendments to the LPA was an effort to curtail the independence of the Bar.
Steven also said the proposal allowed for two appointed government representatives to sit in the council.
“These two can have differing opinions and they could speak out (publicly). This is something that we do not want,” he added.
Another crucial change, he said was to revamp the entire election process which was to be confined to state boundries.
At the moment, the council comprises 38 members who are elected annually to manage the affairs and execute the functions of the Bar.
The council consists of the immediate past president and vice-president of the Bar, the chairman of each of the twelve (12) state committees, one (1) member elected by each of the twelve (12) state committees to be its representative to the council, and twelve (12) members elected from throughout peninsular Malaysia by way of postal ballot.
Immediately after the AGM, the 38 decide among themselves the key positions in the council.
Steven said the new proposal suggested that members from the states directly elect three candidates to the council.
“Members must be given the choice to vote candidates outside their states and the present time-tested system has worked well,” he added.
The Sabah Law Association and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak respectively regulate about 3,000 lawyers in both regions.