KUALA LUMPUR, May 27 — The Malaysian Bar today voted to hold a peaceful protest to uphold judicial independence, and to also condemn the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s (MACC) recent controversial investigation into judge Datuk Mohd Nazlan Mohd Ghazali.
Malaysian Bar president Karen Cheah Yee Lynn said today that an overwhelming majority of the lawyers who had attended the Extraordinary General Meeting (EGM) agreed to the peaceful protest.
“We will be carrying out some of the steps contained in this resolution, including having a walk or peaceful protest,” the Bar Council chairman told reporters here after the Malaysian Bar concluded its EGM.
As for details on the Malaysian Bar’s peaceful protest or walk, Cheah said the Bar Council — the organisation’s governing body — would decide later.
“The office bearers will be having a meeting this Sunday and we will try and sort out the logistics. At the end of the day, when the date and the time is firmed up, we will most probably let everyone know,” she said, also confirming that the name of the walk has yet to be decided but that it was ultimately to uphold the independence of the judiciary.
Asked whether the Malaysian Bar would take inspiration from its previous Walk for Justice in 2007 in Putrajaya, Cheah noted that every walk is different and that the Malaysian Bar had also held two other walks in 2011 and 2014 in Kuala Lumpur besides the one in 2007.
“So we think that we will have to find that suitable appropriate time, venue and place in order to put the message across how that independence of the judiciary can actually be preserved, so logistically and by way of details, I think we are unable to make any confirmation at this point of time,” she said.
She said the sentiments of members of the Malaysian Bar are that they are “very keen to want to walk” and noted that many have said that they would turn out and walk.
Mohd Nazlan is the trial judge who heard former prime minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s case of RM42 million misappropriated from SRC International Sdn Bhd at the High Court and is now a Court of Appeal judge.
The first item on the resolution adopted at the EGM was the Malaysian Bar’s condemnation in the strongest possible terms of the unprecedented way in which the MACC had publicly announced the launch of criminal investigations into a judge from the superior courts (referring to High Court, Court of Appeal, Federal Court) for an indefinite period and without proper closure, as well as for publicly disclosing the judge’s name, which it said amounts to an act of intimidation against the judiciary.
The second item on the resolution made was the Malaysian Bar’s condemnation in the strongest possible terms of any interference at any time with the independence of the judiciary, and breaches of the fundamental principle of separation of powers.
The third item on the resolution made was for the Malaysian Bar to take immediate and necessary steps to organise and lead a peaceful protest. This resolution stated that the time and venue of the peaceful protest will be for the Bar Council to decide.
As part of the third item of the resolution, the Malaysian Bar members also agreed for other steps — which the Bar Council deems appropriate — to be taken, which may include challenging the propriety and the way the MACC started its investigations into Nazlan or to also advocate reforms to laws to protect the judiciary’s independence from interference by the executive and to uphold public confidence in the judiciary.
Asked to explain the third item of the resolution, Cheah said the peaceful protest is confirmed, while two other options have been left to the Bar Council to decide whether to or how it would take up those options.
“So there are three things that are on the table currently under the resolution, the first one is the walk, to take immediate steps to organise a walk or a peaceful protest, so it’s either or.
“The second option that is on the table is possibly commencing a legal suit in order to challenge the validity of the investigation that’s been carried out by the MACC, and the last option that we have in the resolution is the advocacy of carrying out reforms or possible reforms in order to preserve the independence of the judiciary,” she said.
In the fourth item on the resolution which was approved, the Malaysian Bar called on the attorney general — as the guardian of public interest — to take all necessary steps to protect the institution of the judiciary and the sacrosanct principle of the judiciary’s independence from such intimidation and interference.
As for the nature of the fourth item on the resolution, Cheah explained: “We just want the attorney general to take cognisance of the fact that he also has a role in upholding the independence of the judiciary.” Asked whether the Malaysian Bar will be writing or talking to the attorney general about this resolution, Cheah confirmed a copy of the resolution will be sent to him.
Asked whether the Malaysian Bar’s resolution today would also be forwarded to those in the government such as the law minister, Cheah said a copy of the Malaysian Bar resolutions would usually be sent to the relevant authorities and those who are supposed to take note of the resolutions passed, depending on the type of resolutions passed. She said the full list of recipients of this resolution will be decided subsequently.
A total of 623 members of the Malaysian Bar had registered to attend the EGM today, which is way past the quorum of 500 members required.
For this resolution which was carried and adopted at the EGM, Cheah said 437 members had voted in favour of the motion, while seven had voted against the motion and four had abstained from voting.
For this resolution — including for the peaceful protest to be held — which was adopted, it was proposed by Cheah on behalf of the Bar Council.
As for six other motions which were proposed at the EGM today, Cheah said five of them were defeated or not carried through and that members are free to table these motions again in the future, while another of these motions was deferred to the next general meeting as the motion’s proposer was not present.
Sabah and Sarawak lawyers in support
The Malaysian Bar is the legal professional body representing lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia, which as of February 11 had 20,556 members.
Lawyers in Sabah and Sarawak are represented by the Sabah Law Society (SLS) and the Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS) respectively.
Cheah today said both the presidents of the SLS and AAS had attended the Malaysian Bar’s EGM as observers. “Because by nature, the grave issue we are talking about, all three Bars are aligned in terms of what has been passed.
“They are aligned with us in terms of upholding the independence of the judiciary. So the Malaysian Bar, the SLS and AAS have met in what we call our annual tripartite meeting, and this was one of the issues we were discussing and we are aligned in the upholding of the independence of the judiciary,” she said, referring to the tripartite meeting which she confirmed was held a few weeks ago on May 14.
Cheah confirmed that the Malaysian Bar had invited their Sabah and Sarawak counterparts via the SLS and AAS to join the peaceful protest, but noted that it has yet to be confirmed whether they would be joining the walk.
The Malaysian Bar had on May 5 called for this EGM. On May 4, Cheah said the Bar Council had on April 29 decided to urgently call for the EGM in exercise of the Malaysian Bar's statutory duties under the Legal Profession Act to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour.
Six former Malaysian Bar presidents on May 4 had also launched an online petition to urge the Bar Council to organise a walk by lawyers to defend the judiciary's independence.
The MACC on April 23 was reported confirming to local newspaper The Star that it had started its investigation on Mohd Nazlan, based on reports it said it had received.
Following criticisms such as by the Malaysian Bar and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) against its investigation, the MACC on April 28 insisted that it has the power to investigate public officers including judges.
The MACC had also explained that it had received three separate complaints on March 15, April 23 and April 27 on the matter involving Mohd Nazlan, and clarified that an investigation on any individual does not necessarily mean that the individual has committed an offence.
On May 21, the MACC announced that it had completed its investigations in a case involving Mohd Nazlan, and said it had presented on May 18 the investigation papers to the Attorney General’s Chambers for further study and direction.