By S. Rutra | LoyarBurok
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 awards 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 to 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He said section 46A of the Act, which spells out the eligibility of those aspiring for positions, should be repealed.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 proactive 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.
He said current council members lacked such spirit as people expected them to stand up and speak out on issues.
The Bar Council was not consulted on the recent amendments to the Subordinate Court Act, which had far-reaching implications on issues like injunctions to be handled by the Sessions Court.
“I’m of the view that these matters should remain with the High Court, with the amendments starting at the Sessions Courts and stopping at the Appeal, not the Federal Court anymore,” he said.
Karpal said the government did not care mainly because of the weaknesses of the Bar Council.
“Why are they (judges) so afraid of the CJ (Chief Justice). They should stand up. It’s very distressing to see judges rushing to dispose of cases because of KPI (Key Performance Indicators),” he said.
“The judges are forced to take on much more than they can chew,” added Karpal.
The senior lawyer concurred with Bon that there was nothing wrong in confronting the government on issues affecting the people.
“This has been done before. It’s nothing new to speak out against the government,” added Karpal.
On the different approaches adopted by junior and senior lawyers (the latter will prod the Bar Council to be more aggressive while the former wants a more non-confrontational approach), Karpal said the only way they (seniors) could gain the confidence of juniors was by standing up for rights of their members and public in general.