KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — Lawyers have dubbed as discriminatory the Bar Council’s proposal to fine junior practitioners if they do not complete their Continuing Professional Development (CPD).
Civil liberties lawyer New Sin Yew, who has been practising for about four years and would be among the 6,000 required to undergo CPD, said it was illegal for the Bar Council to make the training programme compulsory only for lawyers who have been in practice for five years or less, or those called to the Malaysian Bar from July 1, 2011, onwards.
“This is arbitrary, irrational and invidious,” New told Malay Mail Online.
He said the CPD proposal violated Article 8(1) of the Federal Constitution, which states that all are equal before the law, and Section 35(1) of the Legal Profession Act 1976 that provides that members of the Bar “shall have the same rights and privileges without differentiation”.
“One section of the Bar will now be subjected to additional requirements in order to practise and cannot be said to have the same right and privilege. If CPD is to be implemented, it should be implemented to all members of the Bar without discrimination at the same time,” said New.
When it was pointed out that training could improve the profession, the lawyer gave the analogy of a government fining people aged between 25 and 30 if they do not exercise.
“See the problem? It’s the same,” said New.
The Bar Council has filed a motion at the Malaysian Bar’s upcoming annual general meeting (AGM) this Saturday to make CPD mandatory for a selected group — about 6,000 lawyers who have been in practice for five years or less, as well as pupils in chambers — after failing to push it through in 2008, 2012 and 2014. The previous proposals had covered all lawyers.
The motion proposed that the CPD scheme take effect for a 24-month cycle from July 1 this year till June 30, 2018, with non-compliance punished with fines of between RM100 and RM500.
Malay Mail Online polled eight lawyers on the CPD proposal, six of whom, including senior lawyers, were opposed to making the scheme mandatory for only young lawyers.
Employment and shipping litigation lawyer Sara Lau, who is in her third year of practice, said she disagreed with imposing fines for failure to complete the CPD programme.
“Imposing CPD seems a bit like policing and I am unsure if it is suitable for the industry,” Lau told Malay Mail Online.
She added that making CPD mandatory only for junior lawyers assumed that they were “ill equipped, when that is not the blanket case”.
Litigation lawyer Fahri Azzat, who is in his 17th year of practice, also said he was against making CPD compulsory and believed that mandating it only for young lawyers was an infringement of Section 35(1) of the Legal Profession Act.
“I think it takes a paternalistic approach towards lawyers. The saying about how you can bring the horse to water and cannot make it drink applies with greater force to lawyers, because we’re on average way cleverer than horses,” Fahri told Malay Mail Online.
However, corporate lawyer Marcus van Geyzel, who has been in practice for 13 years, said he supported a mandatory CPD scheme, citing the deteriorating quality of the legal profession.
“I don’t agree with limiting the mandatory CPD to junior lawyers, but I understand that the limit is because the Bar wants to subsidise the cost and it’s not financially possible to subsidise the whole group,” van Geyzel told Malay Mail Online.
“A mandatory CPD without a penalty for non-compliance is mandatory in name only. Unfortunately, the majority of the Bar is not far-sighted enough at the moment to see the benefits of a mandatory CPD,” he said.
Litigation lawyer Amirul Izzat Hasri, who has been in practice for three years, also supported the imposition of fines in the CPD proposal, saying: “At the end of the day, the programme is designed for the betterment of every lawyer out there”.
Daniella Zulkifli, co-chair of the Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee (NYLC), said the Bar Council has promised to make the CPD scheme more inclusive by tabling a motion at the 2018 AGM, as the NYLC had “reservations” on the programme being made compulsory only for junior lawyers.