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MalaysianBar.Org: Walk for Justice: ‘When lawyers walk, something must be very wrong’

Malaysian Bar photograph

Contributed by Web Reporter    
Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 04:41pm 

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PUTRAJAYA, Wed: “Lawyers don’t walk everyday. Not even every month. But when they walk, then something must be very wrong,” said Chairman of the Bar Council Ambiga Sreenevasan when addressing a strong crowd of more than 2,000 members of the Malaysian Bar and some concerned citizens at the Palace of Justice before the commencement of the walk to the Prime Minister’s office to hand over the Bar’s memorandum urging the government to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry to probe the state of judiciary and memorandum on the establishment of a judicial appointments and promotion commission.

Earlier, seven buses ferrying members of the Bar and public from Kuala Lumpur were denied entry to Putrajaya. Frustrated with the police tactics which included sending a helicopter hovering above the crowd, Bar Councillor Edmund Bon and lawyer Amer Hamzah Arshad then decided to lead the stranded numbering about 200 walking some five kilometres to the Palace of Justice.

When they arrived at about 11.30am, the group was met with a thunderous applause by those who waited patiently for them. The Walk for Justice scheduled at 11.00am then started at about 11.45am with Bar Council members leading the 2,000 plus lawyers and concerned citizens.

As they walked, they chanted various slogans led by Amer holding a loud hailer, shouting: “Who are we?” “Malaysian Bar”, the crowd roared. “What do we want?” Amer asked. “Justice” the crowd replied in unison. The humorous part was when Amer shouted, “We are doing this for the sake of the country” and the crowd replied, “Correct, Correct, Correct!” Members also received public support from passers-by who greeted them by sounding their car honks.

The heavily-armed police including the Federal Reserve Unit, however, gave their fullest cooperation with some reporters cheekily remarking that this is perhaps the first time a march like this proceeded without any obstruction.

The press, both local and international including well-known bloggers like Raja Petra, Jeff Ooi and Patrick Teoh were also there, busy taking pictures of this event of the Bar which happened only for the second time in the 60 years of history of the Bar.

“Today is indeed the greatest day of the Malaysian Bar”, declared immediate Past President, Yeo Yang Poh. In fact, early in the morning, Yeo and lawyer Desmond Choi went on to the popular Cantonese FM 98.8 Channel to tell listeners why the lawyers were doing this with most callers calling in to praise the Malaysian Bar Council and members of the Malaysian Bar who decided to do this for justice.

The march stopped at the front gate to the Prime Minister’s office at about 12.30pm. The office bearers, Ambiga, Vice-President Raguanth Kesavan, Secretary Lim Chee Wee and Treasurer George Varughese then went to the Prime Minister’s office to hand over two memoranda to the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary whilst the crowd continued to stay behind chanting away in support of the four-man delegation.

The weather was perfect when the march started as if God was with us. But when the march ended, the heavens appeared to be crying for the judiciary too pouring down rains of tears whilst members of the Bar and their leaders steadfastly stayed behind, drenched in the rain.

For those who took part in this historical march, they had left Putrajaya today with their heads high for they had done something not just for the Bar but for the country. Most of all, they had walked the talk.

Bar’s memorandum urging the government to set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry

Latest Crisis in the Judiciary
The video clip showing a lawyer allegedly in a lengthy discussion with a senior judge raises many troubling questions that have very serious and far reaching implications. The issues and consequences arising from the video clip strike at the heart of the administration of justice and the rule of law in this country.
One of the fundamental characteristics of the rule of law is an independent, impartial Judiciary. The doctrine of the separation of powers that dictates and ensures the independence of the Judiciary is enshrined in the Constitution. The Constitution is the nation’s supreme law that guarantees justice and fundamental liberties to every citizen. The separation of powers provides essential checks and balances in the system. Any indication or suggestion that the Judiciary is neither independent nor impartial, will diminish public confidence in the administration of justice.
Since 1988, there has been a growing feeling that ail is not well with the Judiciary. We have been through crisis after crisis where the Judiciary is concerned. This recent expose of a lawyer apparently brokering the appointment and promotion of judges, therefore brings to boil what has been simmering for many years. It strikes at the heart of the Judiciary. This, we believe, will become a frequent phenomenon if the very foundation of the Judiciary is not set right and strengthened, and if the process of Judicial reform does not commence.
These events have significance not only in a localised context, but also in the wider international arena. A legal system which is efficient, reliable, independent and fair is a major consideration for foreign investors to invest in Malaysia. Individuals and companies involved in international trade and investment must feel assured that contracts in Malaysia will be honoured, and disputes if brought before the courts will be adjudicated in a fair and impartial manner, at a reasonable cost and with reasonable speed. The judicial process should inspire confidence. Only an impartial, independent and well-developed judicial system may achieve this.
The decline in confidence in our Judiciary must be arrested. The independence of our Judiciary must be rebuilt and strengthened through judicial reform, which includes ensuring a transparent and fair mechanism for the appointment and promotion of judges based on merit and other universally acceptable criteria.
The best infrastructure and facilities would be of little use when there is no independent, impartial and competent Judiciary. The appointment and promotion process must not only be free from, but must be seen to be free from, partisan influences. There cannot be any inappropriate or unwarranted interference with the appointment and promotion of judges. Appointments and promotions cannot be based on loyalty to the Government, or to any individual or group.
To restore public confidence in the Judiciary, a Judicial Appointments Commission should be promptly established, comprising persons of impeccable integrity and respectability, and in whom the Malaysian public has trust. The Bar Council has consistently and tirelessly advocated the setting up of such a Commission. Any such system that is put in place must of course be one that is comprehensive and well thought-out. Such a system must be consultative, transparent and accountable; so that the public will be able to understand and appreciate the process.
Coming back to the video clip, if the conversation shown in the clip did take place, it gives rise to grave concerns that the process of the selection and promotion of judges is badly tainted, thus jeopardising the administration of justice and the rule of law. Many questions may also arise as to the outcome of cases that have been heard by the Judges concerned. The ramifications of such a situation are naturally a cause for concern, and immediate steps must be taken. On the other hand, if the video is not genuine, then the parties concerned must be quickly vindicated in the interests of the Judiciary.
The independent panel appointed yesterday is a welcome and positive first step but we have concerns whether their terms of reference are wide enough and whether they will have the necessary powers to compel the production of evidence. We respectfully urge the Government to initiate the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry pursuant to the Commissions of Enquiry Act 1950 into the video clip in particular, and into the state of the Judiciary in general. Such a Commission would have the powers necessary to compel the production of evidence.
We sincerely urge YAB Datuk Seri to, and earnestly hope that YAB Datuk Seri will, take the aforesaid measures.
Ambiga Sreenevasan
Malaysian Bar
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