Abd Rahman Said Alli’s disenchanted plea to the Bar Council to shut up is understandable. The regularity of their platitudes and the frequently insipid statements grow more enervating with each bleat.
Why, they would almost sound like any other creatively bankrupt government ministry if it weren’t for their cries for accountability, transparency, and justice. And that is what Abd Rahman must not forget. Trying and tiring though their bleating maybe, the message is important and necessary.
The fault of the Bar Council for their insipidity, lethargy, and blandness, if any, lies both with the Bar Council members and the apathy of the Malaysian lawyers. The former are guilty of putting themselves up time and time again, depriving others who are more capable but less famed from the opportunity of serving on the Bar Council.
We use the word “famed”‘” because these days the Bar is so big that lawyers do not really know each other (please spare us the rehashing about the “golden old days” when everybody knew everybody — it’s over).
Most of those elected aren’t there so much because of Malaysian lawyers’ resounding endorsement of their fortitude of mind and opinion, dedication to duty, passion for justice, or a drive to modernise the legal profession.
They are there because of opportunity. They are there because they are “well known” in the profession. They are known because of what they write in the Bar Council and State Bar newsletters, for their appearances in the newspapers, for crappy textbooks, by word of mouth about how great a particular lawyer is supposed to be, and other less reliable methods.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some good guys in there. There are, but we think most of them have passed their expiry date. All those who have sat there for five years, should stop offering themselves up and make way for others.
If these Bar Council members truly want a more vibrant, dynamic, creative, and more relevant Bar in reality and not merely in words, they must leave. To see the same tired faces in the Bar Council AGM Book brings to mind the words of Cromwell, “You have sat here too long for any good you are doing. Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go”.
And what then of Malaysian lawyers in general? There is no denying it — they are an apathetic lot. This is clear from lack of quorums we hear about time and time again. The factors contributing to this apathy are complex and many but we think there are few stand outs.
Firstly, education. The legal education that is being taught and being received does not emphasise a lawyer’s duty to his profession, the court, and society in general. This applies to those educated both within and without our country.
The differentiating factor between them is that the latter have a greater opportunity of internalising these duties solely because of their exposure to more liberal and critical thinking lecturers, tutors, lawyers, judges, press, and environment.
The former have less opportunity for either of this because of a lack of all those factors I mentioned just now. That is why we actually have greater respect for those lawyers who are not only good but conduct themselves by a sense of duty from the local universities — it is so much harder for them.
Secondly, the local legal environment. Most people join the profession not out of a love for justice or a sense of responsibility but because it is a job that pays a regular wage. It’s okay to join for the latter reason as long as they have some of the former in them.
If they don’t, then we will be in the position we are with lawyers that do not care about the profession; that do not want to contribute to the Bar or legal aid because they see no financial returns for their participation; that do not want to speak out because they are afraid of losing their jobs or being hammered by a judicial officer in court; and on and on.
And sadly, senior lawyers and firms (especially the big ones) do nothing to teach new lawyers otherwise.
Thirdly, the legal culture. We are inundated with American movies, television series, and John Grisham novels that repeatedly drive home the point that the law is not about justice but about billable hours; about getting your client off by any means whatsoever; about driving big cars; about having huge houses, and rich corporate clients.
It glorifies the rich and famous lawyers and because of the educational policies in place, our fresh lawyers know no better. Most fresh lawyers here internalise this because there are few that tell them otherwise. For many, the mission in the legal profession is merely for a fatter cheque at the end of the month.
Their sole achievement would be to boast how much they earn each month. It’s sad to see young lawyers with barely any experience moving firms at the drop of a hundred ringgit bill. Is it any wonder sometimes the public has the impression that lawyers are a very close second to the oldest profession in the world?
Fourthly, the Bar Council. As pointed out earlier, that we see the same names on the ballot papers year in and year out does not encourage lawyers to care. The understandable mentality is why bother voting because: (i) I see the same fellows here all the time; and (ii) these fellows are going to win no matter what I do.
Fresh candidates that stand are unknowns and inevitably lose. There is therefore no sense of participation in choosing the leadership of the Bar Council by the lawyers. And this is reflected in the miserable number of votes collected during the elections.
In sum, it is not only the government or the judiciary that needs to rejuvenate itself the Bar Council needs to do so as well. Since the Bar Council is famed for its cries of transparency it should do the same and declare all the benefits, subsidies or entitlements that Bar Council members are entitled to or given in a year to its members in its next Annual Report.
This would give some insight as to why some people are so keen on sitting there year after year, and some fight tooth and nail before a Bar Council election to get in.
Finally, Abd Rahman must understand that it is not for the Bar to salvage “some form of semblance of an independent judiciary”. Abd Rahman should try to see the Bar and the Bench as a Mother and Father, respectively.
This is simply because they are in this together for the long haul and one cannot do without the other. Right now the Father is suffering a deep sense of self doubt, emotional confusion, intellectual impotency, a lack of courage, and a sense of direction.
Every once in a while this manifests itself when he takes it out on the Mother; for he has drunk long and deep from the bottles of Avarice, Sycophancy, and Ignorance (1988 and onwards have, after all, been vintage years).
The Mother cannot mould or force the Father to do anything he doesn’t want to do; she is also unable to hit him back because she doesn’t have any statutorily enshrined weapons. The best she can do right now is to give him direction, support, understanding, and courage.
Hopefully in time, he will get his act together. Unfortunately, because the Mother has been eating the same stale food for the past few years, she too, is starting to lose her resolve and sense of purpose.
Their child, Justice, has already lost one parent (we hope temporarily). Let us see how quickly the other parent wakes up to ensure that its poor child does not lose another.