KUALA LUMPUR, July 18 — The federal government’s proposal to change the Legal Profession Act (LPA) 1976 would empower Putrajaya to blatantly interfere in the independent professional body representing lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia, the pro-moderation group G25 said today.
G25 highlighted Putrajaya’s plans to give powers to the minister in charge of legal affairs to decide the rules and regulations of elections within the Malaysian Bar, saying that this would interfere with its self-regulation.
“It is untenable that a member of the federal Cabinet could be reposed with the power of determining the manner in which the Bar’s elections are to be conducted.
“This is tantamount to blatant government interference in the affairs of an independent Bar. Such interference cannot be tolerated,” it said in a statement today.
G25 said any attempts to impose government control and to undermine the independence of the Malaysian Bar must be seen as an attack on the rule of law, insisting that it cannot be condoned.
Pointing out that the planned LPA amendments are a violation of international standards adopted in a 1990 United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, G25 noted that these principles state that lawyers shall be entitled to form self-governing professional bodies with an executive body that is free from external interference.
“The G25 is further concerned that the erosion of the independence of the Bar will create negative perceptions to foreign investors about the independence and integrity of the Malaysian legal system,” it said, adding that it would then make Malaysia less attractive as an investment destination.
Backing the objection by the Bar Council, the Malaysian Bar’s executive body, to the LPA amendments, G25 asked Putrajaya to review its plan to introduce changes to the law.
The government is expected to table significant amendments to the Legal Profession Act 1976 in Parliament this October, including the introduction of two government-appointed representatives in the Bar Council that the Attorney-General this month said is intended to ensure “good relations” between the government and Malaysian Bar members.
But Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru told Malay Mail Online recently that having such government appointees would only undermine the Malaysian Bar’s existing professional working relationship with the government, as well as cause “unnecessary suspicion, angst and antagonism towards the government.”
Steven also said the proposed amendments would allow the government to change the Malaysian Bar’s election rules if the desired election results are not obtained and would clearly allow government control or influence over the professional body.