Siti Kasim, who is now contesting for a seat in the Bar Council, believes that lawyers who are elected as lawmakers should not continue their legal practice.
Siti said it was never her ambition to run for a position in the governing body of the Malaysian Bar, but said she had agreed to join the elections due to the backing of other lawyers.
The first-time candidate for the Bar Council said she had always wanted to see several changes being implemented for the Malaysian Bar, including barring elected Members of Parliament and state assemblymen from continuing as lawyers.
“I think once lawyers go into politics and they are being elected as MP, once you enter politics, I think you shouldn’t continue to be a practitioner.
“I always feel this is somehow not right. When you choose to be in politics, then your devotion and your work should be with your constituents. You are getting paid for that and yet you are still running your law firm,” she told Malay Mail Onlinewhen contacted earlier this week.
“I know a lot of people disagree with me, because they also have to find their bread and butter. To me, you make a choice, you want to be a politician, you be a politician, and you are getting paid. Maybe it’s not as much as a lawyer, but that is a choice you made. If you feel you want to serve the people, that is the course you must take, then you sacrifice,” she added.
Siti said that Malaysians tend to look up to those with titles or position, which means lawyers would have an advantage with their elected lawmaker post, which would effectively act as an advertisement to clients.
“But being an ADUN or MP is advertisement; to me, there is a perception that these people are good lawyers and people would go to them,” she said, noting the Bar’s restrictions on advertising one’s legal services.
On top of that, Siti said there is sometimes a blurring of lines when an elected lawmaker speaks as a lawyer, as there would be a “tinge of political mileage” as they seek to score political points with their statements.
“I always feel once you enter politics, you should step down from being a lawyer. Because the Bar should be impartial, apolitical. So when these lawyers who are politicians and they speak sometimes in our AGM, sometimes it becomes political. Then the Bar will be taken as being on one side or the other,” she said, stressing that the Malaysian Bar has instead always been impartial and been concerned with law only.
Siti, who is not a member of any political party, said that lawyers should have the freedom however to join or support any political party or to show their political affiliation.
Besides seeking to help the Malaysian Bar to continue to be seen as impartial, Siti said there should be a limit on the number of consecutive years where lawyers can hold positions in the Bar Council and Bar Council’s committees.
“You can still do a lot of things without being a council member. I believe any position must not be held more than four years. You should give other people the chance to be in the council — new ideas, new blood,” she said.
“Even the president of America, you can’t be holding the position for more than two terms. And you have to give up, you can’t be there forever, it’s democracy. I always believe when one holds a position or power for so long, one tends to take it for granted,” she said.
Two years may be too short for a committee chair — who is appointed by the Bar Council — to run his or her projects, but four years or a consecutive two-term should be sufficient, Siti said.
Those who give up their posts can return later on and may even come back with fresh ideas or perspectives after having stepped away, she said.
Siti is also irked by lawyers who join committees within the Bar Council but fail to show up for meetings and get involved in activities, saying that those who are unable to commit to the volunteer work should just leave.
She claimed that there has even been those who do the “unethical” thing of signing up to have their name listed in the committees and using it to their advantage to secure positions or courses.
“I think this rule should be set — any member of the Bar who join the committee and does not join in activities, is not getting involved, should be kicked out,” she said.
Siti said these three proposals may not necessarily be accepted by Bar Council members, but said it could also be raised in the Malaysian Bar’s annual general meeting (AGM).
Siti has been a member of the Bar Council’s Human Rights committee since 2007/2008 and has been the co-deputy chair of its Orang Asli committee for two years.
However, Siti said there was no need to steer the Bar Council to address human rights abuses or to focus on the plight of the local indigenous community, noting that the office-bearers of the Bar Council have always been supportive of such causes and that she had no complaints on the good work the council has done.
Ultimately Siti wants to serve both lawyers and Malaysians if voted into the Bar Council, noting that citizens often look at the Malaysian Bar as one of the “last bastions” that can save the country by upholding the rule of law.
“We are there as members of the Bar to serve the country, to uphold the rule of law without fear or favour — that is our role. Even people who are not supporting the Bar Council, if they get into trouble, we should serve them,” she said.
She also explained that whenever she speaks out on religion and Muslim extremists, it is not related to the Bar, but it is something that she believes she should do in her roles as a Muslim, a Malay and a Malaysian.
There are 22 candidates in the running to be on the Bar Council for the 2017/2018 term, with voting through postal votes to be concluded by November 30.
According to the Malaysian Bar’s website, about 17,400 members of the Malaysian Bar can vote for a maximum of 12 candidates each in this election, while the term of the 38 members currently sitting on the Bar Council will expire at the AGM fixed for March 18 next year.
Source : IDA LIM@The Malay Mail Online