Pakatan delay in law reforms, judicial misconduct RCI to top lawyers’ AGM today

Malaysian Bar President George Varughese speaks to Malay Mail at the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Choo Choy May
Malaysian Bar President George Varughese speaks to Malay Mail at the Bar Council in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — The Malaysian Bar will be discussing and voting today on nine proposed resolutions ranging from urging the government to end its alleged “procrastination” in implementing promised law reforms to a planned Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) on a judge’s claims of judicial misconduct.

At its 73rd annual general meeting today, outgoing Malaysian Bar president George Varughese has proposed two motions, with one of it noting that the Pakatan Harapan government has been “procrastinating on delivering on its pledges” in its election manifesto to abolish several draconian laws.

In the same motion, George proposed that the Malaysian Bar resolve to call for the “immediate abolition” of eight laws — Sedition Act, Prevention of Crime Act, Universities and University Colleges Act, Printing Presses and Publications Act, Dangerous Drugs (Special Preventive Measures) Act, Security Offences (Special Measures) Act (Sosma), Prevention of Terrorism Act and the National Security Council Act.

He also proposed that the Malaysian Bar resolve to call for the “immediate repeal” of certain draconian provisions in the Penal Code, the Communications and Multimedia Act, Official Secrets Act, Film Censorship Act, Peaceful Assembly Act and provisions on death sentence and whipping.

As for the second motion proposed by George, he noted that the Committee for Institutional Reforms had on July 17, 2018 submitted its final report to the prime minister, and that minister in charge of legal affairs Datuk Liew Vui Keong had on August 7, 2018 said the Cabinet is reviewing the final report and would decide on whether to make it publicly available after the Cabinet discusses the report in detail.

In his proposal, George noted “with regret” that the federal government has not released the final report or provide any updates on the status of implementation of the reforms in the report.

He proposed that the Malaysian Bar pass a resolution to call upon Putrajaya to publicly release the final report to enable Malaysians to “hold the federal government accountable for its promises”, as well as to call the government to immediately act on institutional reforms especially for key institutions such as the judiciary, parliament, Election Commission, the Attorney General’s Office, the police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.

Three other lawyers — Charles Hector, Francis Pereira, Shanmugam Ramasamy — similarly proposed that the Malaysian Bar passes a resolution to urge the Malaysian government to “speedily abolish all draconian laws without any further delay and immediately impose a moratorium on using these laws pending abolition” as “procrastination is not acceptable”.

The trio also proposed that the Malaysian Bar resolve, among other things, to call on the government to immediately commute the sentence of convicts on death row to imprisonment, and to push for MPs and members of the Dewan Negara to support and ensure the abolition of the death penalty.

Hamid Sultan and selection of judges

Following Court of Appeal judge Datuk Hamid Sultan Abu Backer’s affidavit last month with shocking allegations of judicial interference and judicial misconduct, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said that a Royal Commission of Inquiry (RCI) will be set up to look into the claims.

Lawyer Balwant Singh Sidhu is proposing a resolution for the Bar Council to send a lawyer to hold a watching brief on behalf of the Malaysian Bar in the RCI proceedings and to assist the RCI on Hamid Sultan’s affidavit.

Aiming to improve transparency at the appellate courts, lawyer Su Tiang Joo proposed that the Malaysian Bar resolve to respectfully urge the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to include an additional item in the same RCI’s terms of reference: the inquiry on how panels of judges at the appellate courts are assigned and allocated cases, and to examine whether the current system needs any changes.

Lawyer Arun Kasi proposed two resolutions, including that the Malaysian Bar resolve that the Bar Council should be consulted for the appointment of every Court of Appeal and Federal Court judges, and that the Bar Council must always propose candidates whenever there are vacancies for the top four judicial posts and publicly announce such proposals.

Lawyer Ravinder Singh Dhalliwal proposed a resolution for the Bar Council to increase its number of directly-elected candidates from 12 to 18 members, and for the Bar Council to set up a pro-tem committee to study and recommend proposals for a system to ensure proportionate representation in the Bar Council with the number of state representatives to be proportionate to the number of lawyers in every state.

The Malaysian Bar is a professional body for lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia and those in the federal territories, with membership as of February 18 numbering 18,445 lawyers.

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