It’s Covid-20 — Hafiz Hassan

JUNE 2 — I read with concern Leonard Yeoh and Nurul Qarirah’s “Is Malaysia in desperate need of a Covid-19 bill?” 

The call for a Covid-19 law has been made for sometime now, even as early as the first movement control order (MCO) which started on March 18.

After calls by businesses, the Malaysian Bar too pitched in when its president Salim Bashir said it was important for the government to extend the May 18 Parliamentary sitting, which was then scheduled for one day, so a Covid-19 law could be enacted to provide protection for businesses and individuals alike who would struggle financially once the MCO was lifted. 

But now that individual lawyers are writing and raising question whether the country is in desperate need of a Covid-19 law, I reckon that it is now Covid-20 – Covid-Induced Disputes 2020. 

Since the opening of legal offices, lawyers must have had instructions to act for non-performance of legal contracts.

As rightly pointed out by Leonard and Nurul, parties may excuse themselves from their obligations by relying on force majeure clauses in their contracts. If the contract does not contain a force majeure clause, parties may still rely on the statutory right provided by section 57(2) of the Contracts Act 1950, where a contract which later on becomes impossible or unlawful to perform is void.

Unless the contractual parties can agree that events caused by Covid-19 are force majeure events, relying on force majeure clauses or section 57(2) will require parties to refer their disputes to the court. This may then lead to a floodgate of contractual claims since non-performance will become a common issue during the MCO.

Essentially, this means that parties will be forced to bring legal action to determine their contractual rights. Again, as Leonard and Nurul put it, “businesses would have to spend a significant amount of time and resources to rectify and/or resolve these issues themselves, which may ultimately hamper the recovery of the economy in the near future.”

Businesses in Singapore, which ended its circuit breaker yesterday and opens its economy today, will not have to worry about resorting to the courts and expanding their already much-stretched resources to resolve contractual issues. The country has had a Covid-19 law for almost a month now. 

If only legal sense had prevailed and Parliament had sat for a sufficient period to pass a Covid-19 law. It would only take three days for the passage of a Covid-19 law, on a certificate of urgency.

Instead, the country is staring at Covid-20.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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