‘Bar Council is becoming toothless’

By Teoh El Sen, Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council has been described as “toothless” for its failure to effectively voice out against injustice and to take care of the welfare of lawyers. Popular human rights lawyer Edmund Bon told FMT in a recent interview that his frustration with the council has partly prompted him not to stand again for another term as a council member.

“This will be my last term in the Bar Council… unless something extraordinary happens, I will not stand in the next election,” said Bon, who has been in the Bar Council for five years and has been chairman of three committees.

While not saying it was a protest move, Bon said the Bar Council has not been performing as well as it ought to, and has seemingly lost its direction.

“We seem afraid of offending the authorities… the momentum we have gained over the past few terms has been lost… members feel lethargic, and there is a feeling that little can be done through the Bar Council,” Bon said.

He also said his decision (not to stand for election) was to promote the idea that council members should not stay around for too long. In fact, he proposed the idea to the council at its annual general meeting in 2005 but it was not adopted.

“People can say it’s a protest move. It’s up to them what they might think. I have also failed on my part to move the Bar Council (to act on issues). But I am sure more young lawyers will take my place, lead and do better,” Bon said.

However, he admitted that the decision was partly personal as he felt that he needed some time to re-evaluate his priorities and possibly make a comeback in a couple of years.

Bon said he felt that if he stayed on under the present circumstances, he might turn even more cynical and become a lethargic member of the Bar Council.

Below are excepts of the interview:

FMT: Why are you quitting the Bar Council?

Edmund Bon: I’m not quitting the council as I will see out my term and fulfil the pledge to complete the ‘MyConstitution Campaign’ (bringing the Federal Constitution to the people). But I would like to add that while I am trying to promote the idea of taking a break after a length of time, it is quite frustrating at the moment because I feel that we could do much more as leaders of the Bar Council. We have not been performing as well as we ought to. I am also at fault as it is our collective responsibility. It’s just that each of us have our own portfolios and if we work on our portfolios full-time, it’s virtually impossible to have the energy to work on other areas without also stepping on the toes of other members.

What do you mean? Are there problems in the Bar Council?

We are not sufficiently listening to the members of the Malaysian Bar. We have lost touch and not responded fast enough to the needs of our members because we have become too comfortable being members of the Bar Council. Times have changed. The way information is being disseminated requires us to be on our toes. We are not communicating enough, we seem to fear taking difficult positions and standing our ground against the powers that be; and seem afraid of offending the authorities. Save for the well-entrenched views we have held in the past, we only react and our members are losing out. We are without a blueprint or a game-plan and that’s why we are clueless about our direction. The momentum we have gained over the past few terms has been lost, and it will take some time to recover it. Members feel lethargic, and there is a feeling that little can be done through the Bar Council.