KUALA LUMPUR, July 19 ― The Australian Bar Association (ABA) urged Putrajaya today to reconsider the proposed changes to Malaysia’s Legal Profession Act 1976 that it said would threaten the Malaysian Bar’s independence.
ABA president Patrick O’Sullivan QC noted that Australia and Malaysia enjoy “good relations” and “shared values” like the acknowledgment that an independent legal profession was crucial for the protection of human rights, the rule of law, good governance and democracy.
“This proposal would effectively not only give the Attorney General the opportunity to receive reports on the deliberations and actions of this independent institution but importantly, it also provides the opportunity to influence those deliberations and actions,” O’Sullivan said in a statement.
“The Malaysian Bar has long been a defender of human rights and the rule of law in Malaysia. It is that very independence which has benefited the people of Malaysia for many years.
“However, under such an arrangement, the Malaysian Bar’s ability to address on controversial issues that are at odds with the government would be compromised. As a consequence, the people of Malaysia would be adversely affected,” he added.
The Malaysian Bar frequently makes a stand on human rights issues and has called for the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948 that was used in recent years to arrest and prosecute government dissidents, opposition politicians, lawyers, and journalists.
Putrajaya plans to make significant amendments to the Legal Profession Act that are expected to be tabled in Parliament in October, including appointing two members of the Malaysian Bar into the Bar Council to represent and to report to the government.
Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru told Malay Mail Online recently that the proposed appointment of two government representatives in the Bar Council, the executive body of the peninsular legal association, would not only compromise its independence but may also drive away foreign investors.
The ABA said today that it has written an open letter to Putrajaya highlighting concerns that the proposed amendments could have “serious ramifications on the right of lawyers to maintain the rule of law without fear or favour”.
It also cited the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers that require governments to ensure that lawyers can perform their duties without improper interference, among others.