After Siti Kasim’s arrest, Malaysian Bar says police should let lawyers fulfil duties

Siti Kasim (centre) celebrates her release with fellow lawyers and supporters in front of Kajang police headquarters June 24, 2018. — Picture courtesy of Rajsurian Pillai
Siti Kasim (centre) celebrates her release with fellow lawyers and supporters in front of Kajang police headquarters June 24, 2018. — Picture courtesy of Rajsurian Pillai

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 26 — Lawyers should not be hindered when carrying out their duties while acting for their clients as it would be against the legal profession’s independence, the Malaysian Bar has said after Siti Kasim’s arrest.

George Varughese, president of the Malaysian Bar which represents all lawyers in peninsular Malaysia, said the professional body was “appalled and outraged” at Siti’s arrest and detention in the early hours of last Sunday for allegedly obstructing a public servant in the discharge of his or her public functions.

But he noted that Siti was discharging her duties as a lawyer as instructed and appointed by her client Anis Nur Izzaty Ruslan at all times, stressing the importance of the independence of a lawyer when acting for a client “without fear or favour” to the administration of justice.

“The Malaysian Bar demands that the police recognise and respect the role and responsibilities of lawyers and refrain from any action that is likely to harass, impede or obstruct them from performing their duties,” he said in a statement late last night.

“A lawyer must at all times be allowed to advance a client’s rights without obstruction or impediment, or fear of prosecution for carrying out his or her duties as an officer of the Court. 

“Any unwarranted interference with the discharge of such duties is a serious violation of the independence of the legal profession, and an affront to the administration of justice,” he said earlier in the statement.

Events leading to arrest

In his statement, George retraced the events that led to Siti’s arrest, starting from June 21 when the latter was informed that Anis had been taken to the Kajang Hospital for “a medical examination without her consent”.

“Anis, on the advice of Siti Kasim, left the hospital and thereafter, sought temporary refuge at Siti Kasim’s home.

“Subsequently on June 23, 2018, a number of police officers forcibly gained entry into Siti Kasim’s home when she was not in by breaking open several locked doors to gain access to Anis, allegedly to prevent her from injuring herself and others,” he said in the statement.

According to George, Siti was asked to report to the Kajang police station when she asked police on where her client was, with the latter then arrested, handcuffed and remanded overnight before being brought to the Kajang Magistrates’ Court on June 24.

George noted that there was no mention of the initial allegation of kidnapping Anis against Siti during the remand hearing where mention was only made to the alleged obstruction of a public servant, noting that the court refused the police’s application for a court order to detain her for four days for investigations.

Investigate before arrest

George expressed concern over the police’s alleged use of their investigative powers in a “high-handed and oppressive manner”, saying that their powers to arrest are not meant to be used to begin the gathering of evidence against an individual.

“Further, investigative powers cannot be used to arrest or detain individuals, or to seek remand orders, only for the purposes of gathering evidence,” he said, adding that the police should from the outset have carried out thorough investigations on any police report against Siti first instead of simply proceeding to arrest her.

“The powers of investigation and arrest must not be used to intimidate suspects and the application for remand orders must be used sparingly and only when necessary,” he added.

In the same statement, George cautioned that a failure to act impartially will undermine the police’s credibility and would erode their integrity and professionalism.

He then pointed to the Malaysian Bar’s longstanding call for the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC) to address alleged police abuses.

“The Malaysian Bar calls on the Government to fulfil its electoral pledge to establish the IPCMC without further delay,” he said.

This is not the first time that the Malaysian Bar has spoken out on the need to let lawyers perform their roles without “undue harassment or intimidation”, having made such a call last June when Siti was charged with allegedly obstructing a Federal Territories Islamic Affairs Department (JAWI) officer during a raid despite her assertion that she was present as a lawyer for her clients.

Siti’s fellow lawyers had also shown support following her arrest last weekend, with many showing up despite it being a Sunday to assist her and successfully securing her release.

Anis was allegedly taking refuge at Siti’s house from an allegedly abusive mother, whom Siti said had allegedly lodged police reports and told the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) that her daughter was purportedly mentally unstable and that her faith was in question.

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