Amendments took the wind out of Bar Council

By S Rutra, Free Malaysia Today

KUALA LUMPUR: Veteran lawyer Karpal Singh said the Bar Council’s reticence to stand up on issues can be traced to the 1970s when amendments were made to the Legal Profession Act.

Among others, it stipulates that those holding office in any political party and trade unions could not offer themselves to be elected to the council.

He said as a result of the amendments, MPs , assemblymen and unionists known for their vocal views have been “legislated out” and remain as ordinary members.

Thus, only “toothless people” without the right qualities were eligible to contest for a council seat, he added.

“And as a result, the Bar Council has become weak and ineffective,” said Karpal.

He said the government had amended the Act after he had initiated a motion urging lawyers not to take up cases where hearsay evidence was admissible even without the presence of counsel and accused during trials.

“The motion was adopted with some amendments, with the words “should not” substituted with “advice”.

“I was disappointed and discharged myself from three cases as a mark of protest where eventually the courts sentenced the accused in the cases to death,” he added.

He said those elected now are bereft of the qualities possessed by members in the 1960s and 1970s where they spoke up without fear or favour on any issue or government policy.

He described some of the current council members as “self-seekers” who are merely keen on rubbing shoulders with judges and securing award for themselves.

“Because of them, the government does not care anymore about the Bar Council’s views and opinions and bypasses its input when amending laws,” said Karpal.

He said that he agreed with Bar Council member Edmund Bon who had lashed out against the council for its toothless approach with the government on various issues.

“The rot set in after the amendment to the Legal Profession Act in 1977 where members had limited choices in picking the right people,” added Karpal.

He said Section 46A of the Act, which spells out the eligibility of those aspiring for positions, should be repealed.

“I’m not saying all of them were toothless; there were some exceptional cases,” said Karpal.

Men of principle

He singled out Raja Aziz Addruse as an example of a man of principle who stood up during the 1988-1989 judicial crisis and Manjit Singh Dhilon who was proactice on certain issues.

“Because of people like Raja Aziz and Manjeet Singh, people were fired up on issues and the government was afraid of the Bar Council,” added Karpal.