By Boo Su-Lyn
A proposal for a “DIY” system to help the public handle certain legal work on their own has raised hue and cry among lawyers here who say the idea would cost them potential clients.
The livelihood of thousands of lawyers would be affected, said Wan Hidayati Nadirah Wan Ahmad Nasir, as individuals who would typically pay for legal assistance on matters like preparing the necessary documents for property purchases, divorces and will preparation, would no longer need to do so.
“As certain lawyers are focused solely on family matters, or solely on will and estate, to take one of the biggest parts of the lawyer’s job is to take away demand and income for these lawyers,” Wan Hidayati Nadirah told Malay Mail Online.
The lawyer, who does conveyancing and general litigation including civil divorce cases, noted that for sales and purchase (S&P) agreements for property purchases, people would need to know how to deal with land offices and banks.
The lawyer also said divorce cases are not standard, though the template divorce petition may be.
“By drafting your own petition, there are times when clients are not aware of their rights and hence, will overlook to claim those rights under their own petition.
“Having a lawyer ensures a client’s rights are protected. The same reasons with estate matters as well,” added Wan Hidayati Nadirah.
Human rights lawyer Edmund Bon told Malay Mail Online recently that his firm’s pro bono project hopes to launch next year templates and apps for standard legal documents, such as S&P agreements, wills and probate in uncontested cases, accident claims, divorce petitions, as well as bail application and mitigation in criminal cases, while providing guidance on their use.
The lawyer said these documents are not as complicated as imagined and can be handled easily by any individual, with a little know-how.
In fact, he said, these are generally standardised to such an extent that they that can be prepared by the general public once they have access to the documents’ framework.
“It’s do-it-yourself law,” Bon told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
“For S&P agreements, there are ‘boiler plate’ clauses. You just add names, addresses and sign, like a hire-purchase agreement that is now in standard form. You also change the title details of the property and specific issues relating to the property.
“It is similar for wills and probate where the forms are found in the court rules. All you need to do is to insert the names of the deceased and beneficiaries and details of the property to be inherited,” the lawyer added.
Joining in on criticism against Bon’s idea, Bar Council’s professional indemnity insurance committee chair Ragunath Kesavan called the move “populist”.
“To engage on their own, for example, in a sales & purchase agreement, I think it’s a bit risky because it involves many stages. There’s undertaking, it involves the bank, and it involves stakeholders’ money that you have to hold,” Ragunath told Malay Mail Online.
“I think it’s a bit reckless, if you don’t know your rights, and you start doing these things on your own because you won’t know the implications and ramifications,” he added.
Criminal lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad said the danger in Bon’s proposal for template documents in bail applications and mitigation was the assumption that all criminal cases are the same.
“For bail application as an example, we have bailable offences, non-bailable offences and unbailable offences,” Amer Hamzah told Malay Mail Online.
“A lay person will not be able to appreciate the distinctions. Even some lawyers get such distinctions mixed up. And in pleading guilty and doing mitigation, does a layperson know the legal consequences of pleading guilty? Would a layperson know what is the sentencing pattern of a particular offence?” he added.
He pointed out that entering a guilty plea and conducting mitigation without legal assistance could result in one’s property being forfeited, especially in cases where the court can make a forfeiture order upon conviction.
“He’ll definitely have to engage a lawyer eventually in order to undo the error of judgment that he had made,” said Amer Hamzah.