Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Goverment’s law academy move to silence lawyers, says Bar

KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — The Malaysian Bar accused Putrajaya today of feeling “threatened by an independent Bar” after Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz proposed a law academy to be “an alternative” to the statutory body of lawyers and called on the Bar Council to dissolve itself.

The de facto law minister had said this in response to the Bar’s resolution condemning “excessive” and “indiscriminate” use of force by police during the April 28 Bersih rally and its demand that the government and police chief apologise for alleged acts of police brutality.

“The announcement lends itself to the perception that the proposal is revived from time to time when the government feels threatened by an independent Bar that does not countenance the abuse of power by the institutions of the state (the police, in this case), and speaks up in defence of the public at large.

“The Bar, in doing so, is fulfilling its duty under section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act, namely, ‘to uphold the cause of justice ... uninfluenced by fear and favour’,” president Lim Chee Wee said in a statement, adding the Bar was “flabbergasted” at Nazri’s statements.

Nazri and Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had accused the Bar Council, which administers the Malaysian Bar, for being prejudiced in condemning the police and government after the April 28 rally spiralled into chaos.

Nazri said yesterday the proposal to set up a law academy will be discussed by the Cabinet and the Attorney-General soon as it is high time a new organisation, other than the Bar Council, be formed to represent those who have studied law.

The Padang Rengas MP had said the setting up of the academy was aimed at avoiding a monopoly in the issue of legal interpretation.

“I’m sure those in academia would have a better interpretation of the law. The Bar Council may not get it right all the time. They are very partisan. I don’t think they should be given a monopoly,” he said.

But Lim said today the Bar was opposed to Nazri’s proposal of a legal academy, “which appears similar to the proposal that the Government had mooted, and subsequently withdrawn” in 1996 and 2002.

“Regrettably, this third occurrence appears to have come about purely as a reaction to the Bar’s strong message... of grave concern and condemnation of the use of excessive force by the police during the public assembly.

“The test of a mature and democratic society is the manner in which it treats the weakest amongst it. On April 28, 2012, when the mighty weight of the police was unleashed without restraint onto the streets of Kuala Lumpur, many innocent participants were undeservedly harmed.”

Lim also urged the Barisan Nasional (BN) administration “not to attack the messenger, but to act on the message contained in the Bar’s final report and the extraordinary general meeting resolution instead.”

The Malaysian Bar approved the resolution on Friday after only 16 out of 1,270 lawyers opposed the resolution, which contained findings of alleged police brutality against protesters and members of the media.
A total of 939 votes were recorded in support of the resolution. There are some 14,000 members of the Malaysian Bar.

The April 28 rally, which saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka, was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan asked the crowd to disperse.

But the former Bar Council president’s announcement was not heard by most of the crowd who persisted to linger around the historic square which the court had already barred to the public over that particular weekend.

Just before 3pm, some protestors breached the barricade surrounding the landmark, leading police to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.

Police then continued to pursue rally-goers down several streets amid chaotic scenes which saw violence from both sides over the next four hours.

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