KUALA LUMPUR (June 21): Freedom of association must be driven by demand and needs, not compulsion through legislation according to the three independent Bars of Malaysia.
In a joint press release issued by Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee, Advocates' Association of Sarawak president Khairil Azmi Mohd Hasbie and Sabah Law Association president G B B Nandy@Gaanesh, the bodies jointly expressed their reservation and concern over the government's third attempt to establish, by statute, an Academy of Law after the government's earlier proposals were abandoned in 1996 and 2003 following the opposition from the Bar.
The Bar viewed the reasons for the establishment of the proposed Academy of Law by way of legislation as highly questionable due to Minister in the Prime Minister's Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz's actions in relying on the freedom of association of legal academicians, retired judges and various other law practitioners as the main reason for its establishment.
According to the Bar, the independence of the Bar is an integral feature of its constitutional system of government, which was based on rule of law and not rule by law as it was the foundation of justice and the last bastion against all forms of injustice.
"Thus, any measure or attempt to diminish the independence of the Bar in Malaysia is tantamount to a frontal assault on the very foundations of the Bar, and necessarily an affront to the rule of law," it said.
There were no reason given as to why legislation was necessary, or preferred, over articles of association as no public policy or public interest reason has been revealed as to why lawmakers need to legislate, and why the government needs to drive the matter.
"If there are any shortcomings in the law of associations, amendments can be made to the Societies Act 1966.
"By way of example, there are existing associations registered under the Societies Act 1966 whose membership are the same as that contemplated by the minister.
"The Malaysian chapter of the Asean Law Association, ably led by our Chief Justice, is
an association whose membership mirrors that of the proposed Academy of Law," it said.
According to the Bar, these associations have not clamoured nor demanded for their continued existence to be legislated.
If there were interested parties in exercising their freedom of association to establish an Academy of Law, then they could organise it themselves under the Societies Act 1966 and not wait for the government to undertake unsolicited initiatives to organise them, said the Bar.
Another purported reason for the purposed Academy of Law was to raise the standards and improve the quality of the legal profession in which according to the Bar would significantly overlap with, or supplant, the role and activities already performed by the Bar in this regard.
"The Bar Council launched its mandatory professional development scheme in March 2012, aimed at providing quality continuing legal education for Members and any non-Members in the legal community.
"Both the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Association have active professional development programmes, and all three bar associations regularly cooperate with each other in this responsibility," it said.
The government's resources were better utilised in training lawyers at tertiary level, and supporting the Legal Profession Qualifying Board, chaired by the Honourable Attorney-General, in the implementation of the Common Bar Course as the final arbiter of quality for new entrants into the legal profession, suggested the Bar.
The government was urged to uphold, respect and protect the principles of rule of law enshrined in the Federal Constitution, and the spirit and intent of the separate points of agreement with Sabah and Sarawak, which underpin the need for an independent Bar in Malaysia.
"Our nationhood is paved with many instances of the independent Bar upholding the cause of justice without fear or favour.
"It is therefore essential that the government accepts the utility and stature of the independent Bar in Malaysia, and the universal respect we command as advocates for the rule of law," it said.
The government was asked to sincerely and honestly reconsider whether there was a need for the formation of an Academy of Law by way of legislation by the Bar.
"The Bar strongly feels there is no such need or demand, from members of the legal profession, legal academicians, retired judges and others, to justify its establishment," it concluded.