Covid-19: Malaysian Bar urges lockdown, asks lawyers to work from home for two weeks

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir, who noted the need for a multipronged approach at all levels of society to effectively contain the spread of Covid-19, suggested that lawyers allow their law firm staff to work from home temporarily. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir, who noted the need for a multipronged approach at all levels of society to effectively contain the spread of Covid-19, suggested that lawyers allow their law firm staff to work from home temporarily. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 — The Malaysian Bar today urged the Malaysian government to impose a lockdown of the country due to the recent spike in confirmed Covid-19 cases, with a total of 386 active cases as of yesterday.

Malaysian Bar president Salim Bashir, who noted the need for a multipronged approach at all levels of society to effectively contain the spread of Covid-19, went on to suggest that lawyers allow their law firm staff to work from home temporarily.

“The Bar Council advises Members of the Bar to consider allowing their employees to work from home for a period of two weeks to minimise the risk of contracting the virus. 

“Member firms which are shut down during this period are reminded to inform their respective clients and a clear notice be placed at the firm to indicate how cause papers and other important documents are to be served, and the necessary contact details, if any, provided,” he said in a press statement this afternoon.

The Malaysian Bar also said its president had engaged with the chief justice with the aim of taking steps to protect members of the judiciary, lawyers and the public at large, including by proposing to the judiciary to suspend court proceedings for two weeks except for urgent cases.

“These include the suggestion that the Courts be on lockdown for two weeks, with provisions made for urgent matters to be heard during this period to ensure access to justice is not compromised.

“The chief justice is not prepared for a lockdown of the Courts at this juncture, but nevertheless has indicated that the Courts will issue a Covid-19-related standard operating procedure (“SOP”) later today,” the Malaysian Bar said.

“We take note that the High Court and Subordinate Courts have implemented procedures pertaining to the conduct of case management and mentions in open court, and that all mediation cases be adjourned pending further directions. 

“The Bar Council strongly urges the Chief Justice to take proactive measures and consider the Bar Council’s proposal in the interests of all parties on an urgent basis,” it added in the same statement.

In the same statement, the Malaysian Bar said the federal government should act according to the powers granted to it under the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (PCIDA) to impose a lockdown, adding that it believes the government has the necessary powers to do so.

“Pursuant to section 11 of the PCIDA, the Government may declare that a particular area is infected, and under section 31(t) of the PCIDA, the Government possesses a wide discretion to make regulations for the prevention or mitigation of infectious diseases,” it said.

Even if the federal government views Covid-19 as not falling under the PCIDA’s definition of infectious diseases, this can be solved by having the relevant minister issue an order to include Covid-19 as one of the infectious diseases in the First Schedule of this law, the Malaysian Bar said.

In pressing for a lockdown, the Malaysian Bar highlighted that many other countries have imposed states of emergency and directives to curb the spread of Covid-19, including heavily-affected nations such as Italy, the US and Iran and less-affected countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines.

The Malaysian Bar’s statement came after yesterday’s spike of 190 new Covid-19 cases — most of which were linked to a mass religious gathering at a Sri Petaling mosque — brought the local tally to 438 cases.

The figure of 190 new cases represented the biggest single-day jump in Covid-19 cases in Malaysia to date.

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