By Arfaeza A Aziz | Malaysiakini

Young lawyers brushed off the notion that the campaign to repeal section 46A of the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) is to curb the role of senior lawyers in the Bar Council.

Amer Hamzah Arshad, a Kuala Lumpur Bar Young Lawyers committee member, told Malaysiakini that the campaign is not an attempt by young lawyers to challenge their seniors but aimed to abolish the inequalities and unfairness that is entrenched in the Act.

“This is not a coup d’etat or a mutiny… We are not asking to make it compulsory to have young lawyers to sit in the council. All we want is to remove the prohibition and have a level-playing field so that members of the Bar can decide freely as to who they want to lead the Malaysian Bar,” said Amer.

He said this in response to the views by senior lawyers who had expressed fears that the Bar Council would be led by inexperienced members and those with hidden political agenda should section 46A is dropped.

Some senior lawyers sought to affirm the provision stating it has not stop the young lawyers — which forms 75 percent of the 10,500-strong Malaysian Bar — from voicing their concerns through the young lawyers committee attached to all state Bar committees.

Anti-S46A campaign

On Friday, the Kuala Lumpur Bar committee will launch a campaign to get backing from lawyers and the public to have section 46A dropped from the LPA on the grounds that it is unconstitutional.

The LPA controls the activities of lawyers and regulates the Bar Council, the 36-member body which manages the affairs and executes the functions of the Malaysian Bar.

Section 46A of the LPA bars lawyers with less than seven years’ experience, members of Parliament, state assembly representatives, and office-bearers in trades union and political parties from being elected as Bar Council members.

Stating that the fears expressed by some senior lawyers were misplaced, Amer said such views are “an insult to the intelligence of the members of the Bar and any right-minded citizens”.

“The statement implied that members of the Bar are incapable of deciding who should lead the Bar; hence we need the powers-that-be to dictate to us what is in our best interest. This is unfathomable.”

In the event that any member of the Bar does not want any particular individual — due to his lack of seniority or his political beliefs — to be a council or committee member, he said, they are entitled not to vote for such members.

Amer stressed that to allow lawyers the opportunity to vote wisely and maturely was the best way to safeguard the interest and integrity of the Malaysian Bar, not by seeking refuge behind section 46A of the Act.

As all lawyers upon their admission are entitled to conduct all cases including those involving capital punishment, there was no plausible justification to disqualify those below seven years’ standing from being council members.

“If we can have young members of Parliament, who ultimately would be responsible for the administration of this country, then why can’t we have young lawyers leading the Bar if they have the mandate from the members of the Bar?” he said.

Amer added that the presence of the young lawyers committee should not justify the affirmation of section 46A stating that the committee had to established because of the law.

‘Don’t tell us who to vote’

Another young lawyer, Henry Leong, stated that the those who affirmed the provision would be depriving 75 percent of the Bar members from representation in the Bar Council and at the same time denying their right to vote council members of their choice.

He reminded those who support section 46A that they are backing a law which tells members “who they can or cannot vote in any Bar Council election”.

“The right to vote any member we choose is a right which was vested in us the minute we were called to the Bar as members. That right should not be fettered with a host of provisos, including the one that the candidate of choice must have more than seven years in practice,” he said.

“How can a committee of an organisation represent the interests of its members when at least 75 percent of its members are automatically disqualified from being elected.”