KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 — The government has yet to say whether law firms would be allowed to operate during the movement control order (MCO) period and what standard operating procedures (SOP) would be required if they are allowed to do so, the Malaysian Bar said.
In a circular to lawyers yesterday, the Malaysian Bar said the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti) had contacted it to provide views on the matter, adding that it had told the ministry that it believes law firms should be given some “leeway” to operate while the MCO is in place if the Health Ministry deems it safe for lawyers to operate.
“In our response to Miti, we suggested that all law firms be entitled to apply to reopen and that we disagree with any suggestion that approval be granted based on classification or type of work done by the legal firm.
“We have also informed Miti that in the event that a legal firm is allowed to resume operations, there should be restrictions on the number of days and hours that the firm is allowed to operate, on the number of staff that are allowed to be physically present at the legal firm, and that legal firms should comply with minimal practical health and safety requirements,” the Malaysian Bar said in the circular signed off by its secretary AG Kalidas.
The Malaysian Bar also noted that it had previously been told that a Miti list on April 10 on additional services that will be allowed to operate during the MCO lacked a clear definition for “legal services”, and pointed out that it was also previously told that the government was looking into the matter and would provide clarification and a SOP for the legal sector upon discussion with the National Security Council (NSC).
“We have written to both Datuk Seri Mohamed Azmin Ali, Minister of Miti; and Datuk Takiyuddin Hassan, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (Parliament and Law); to seek clarification as to whether a policy decision has been made in this regard, but to date we have not received any response. We will continue to pursue this matter and update members as soon as there is a decision,” the circular said.
Noting that there were some who had sought Miti’s approval to resume operations but failed to do so after Miti’s website crashed, the Malaysian Bar said it had already forwarded information on these law firms to MIti.
“We would like to inform members that we have provided Miti with the relevant information regarding legal firms that was requested of us. This includes the following fields of information: name of member, Bar Council membership number, name of firm, and operating address.
“Hence, once a decision is made that law firms are allowed to apply to resume operations during the MCO period, the information that the Bar Council was asked to provide, is already with Miti,” it added.
Previously on April 11, the Malaysian Bar in a circular said Takiyuddin had requested that law firms remain closed during the MCO period as the Miti statement lacked specifics and a clear definition of legal services.
The Malaysian Bar had then said the government would provide clarification and a SOP for lawyers, while also saying it would continue to monitor the situation and inform its members once there is more clarity on the issue.
Malaysia is currently under a six-week-long MCO until April 28, under which all non-essential services are temporarily shut down.
Law firms were previously not classified as essential services that can remain open during the MCO, and the Miti’s April 10 list did not state law firms as a category by itself that would be allowed to operate.
But included in the Miti list was the category science, professional and technical services including research and development, with the statement clarifying that this was limited only to legal-related services, oil and gas-related services, R&D services related to Covid-19 and lab tests for sectors that were allowed to operate.