Lawyers are essential agents of the administration and machinery of justice. Lawyers influence change. We are meant to be fearless people. Our mantra, in section 42(1)(a) Legal Profession Act, 1976 to uphold the cause of justice without regard to our own interests uninfluenced by fear or favour, is proof of this. Yet, there are some of us lawyers who fear living our lives. We fear death less than we fear life. And that is what the pervading culture and institutions would have us believe, that we can do nothing for ourselves but for them.
I would like to see our young lawyers shake themselves out of our complacency, comfort and move forward. Many of us complain in the court canteens and in our private emails about the rude judges we face, the unhelpful court staff we deal with, the demanding bosses we have, the ruthless clients we service and the low pay we receive. Yet, when there are opportunities to change the institutions which prop these up, we do nothing. There is no time, I am afraid or I do not know how.
The messengers and those who do attempt to reform what is existing are shot, and the message hijacked and lost. Those in positions of comfort take pride in seeing reform agendas and change advocates fail as their positions continue to be consolidated. Those in power fear change. They fear change because they fear living life. Life is a continuos process of challenges, ideas, change, reform, rebirth and action but they fail to see it that way.
Similarly, young lawyers fear change because we have always been comfortable in allowing the senior ones to take charge, make decisions and govern our lives. We feel overawed and we fear challenging the well-established. We are lazy. Flowing from this, there is no impetus for some of the Bar Council members to participate, work and act effectively. This is very frustrating for those who actually want to change things and make things better for you and me.
There are also some Council members who actively do not do any work for the betterment of the Bar but merely indulge in certain activities to ensure their profile stays high in order to win votes for the next elections. These members are hindrances to the Bar.
Dump the ‘deadwood’
I would like to see the young lawyers realise that the rot has set in and it will not stop until we do something about it. A first place to start would be to build an advocacy campaign and concerted movement to change the direction of the Bar Council by voting in effective and deserving members. It is time that we should pressure and communicate to “deadwood” members that their previous efforts are appreciated and they should move on to higher things.
Sitting on Council debating, formulating strategies and policies, doing the nitty-gritty and executing hard work should be left to others.
As it is now, the Bar Council appears to be a “pointless oratorical tournament”,1 much due to the fact that there appears to be no concerted move for rejuvenation of ideas, policies and action. We must prevent the Council from degenerating any further. We must exercise our rights to vote, we must vote wisely, and we must start to debate issues of the Bar.
We must aim to make the Bar Council a professionally-run body. Committees that run on a voluntary, part-time basis by lawyers should be phased out. At most, lawyers should be called in only to give advice on policies and to ensure the policies are implemented accordingly. There must be a total revamp of the Bar Council.
Lack of information
The other major problem is that there is a lack of information flowing down to all members on a daily basis. Some of us only hear about things when we work at the committee level at the Bar Council or State Bar Committees but even that, we do not hear the full story or the truth. There are many grievances aired at grassroots level about the Bar Council and State Bar Committees, yet the same people or similarly inclined people are voted in each year.
Just two examples:
1. Did all members, particularly the young members, know that the Bar Council had a ceremony on Nov 23, 2004 to open its building at Kuala Lumpur? Were all members invited to attend the ceremony? Was this event not important enough for all of us to be informed and invited? Or was it only for certain elite members?
2. When the Kuala Lumpur State Bar Committee went to meet with the chief justice, do we know who attended? I was made aware that no representative from the Young Lawyers’ Committee was represented or requested to attend.
At present, and for the short-term, the remedy would be to ensure that young lawyers fully and actively participate in the activities of the Bar and State Bar Committees. We should take up the invitations to sit on committees which interest us and contribute as much as we can. We should ask difficult questions and make things happen for the betterment of the Bar. It may be difficult to believe, but from personal experience, working with committees, debating issues and implementing policies can very quickly enrich and assist our personal growth as young lawyers.
We must appreciate that there are many opportunities out there for us to grow and grasp as young lawyers. We must grit our teeth, take our chances and grab the opportunities. Most importantly, we must not be afraid. If we will not help ourselves, no one will.
The Malaysian Bar has always been and is intended to be a fearless body, standing up to notions of injustice and oppression. It so happens that on most occasions, the Bar’s views do not correspond with the views of the established political order. It does not mean the Bar is anti-government or pro-opposition.
The Bar Council has led the Bar on occasions to support the government’s stand on certain matters and disapprove of the opposition’s position on others and vice versa. Allegations that the Bar Council is forever steeped in anti-establishment mode are therefore mischievous and unfounded.
Nevertheless, the Bar which is led by the Bar Council is one of the last bastions of justice, human rights, social order, freedom and constitutionalism in Malaysia in the face of the overwhelming might of the State.
Deeply entrenched within it is the spirit of humanity and the concept of what is right and wrong. Substantially, it provides ordinary people like me and you to liberate ourselves, to advocate change in society, to uphold the rule of law, and to keep ourselves free. Let us not lose that.
We as young lawyers are part of this structure. Let us not forget that or have anything that will break our will. Once we realise that change is within us, the power to change is within reach and we can take action to change things; only then will we start living our lives a little bit more, and hopefully, with less fear.
1 A term coined by Ernesto Che Guevara, representing Cuba, in his address to the 19th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York on 11 December 1964.