Investigation into lawyers’ AGM motion a serious attack on the independence of the Bar
29 March 2016
Lawyers for Liberty views with extreme concern the sedition investigation against three lawyers who submitted a motion to discuss Attorney-General Mohamad Apandi Ali’s refusal to prosecute Prime Minister Najib Razak over the 1MDB scandal and calling for the AG’s resignation at the Malaysian Bar annual general meeting (AGM) on 19 March 2016.
It is shocking and unacceptable for these lawyers to be investigated as the Malaysian Bar have a duty to uphold the cause of justice, rule of law and the Federal Constitution. Lawyers are enjoined to do so by tradition and legislation, specifically, section 42(1)(a) of the Legal Profession Act 1976 that the purpose of the Malaysian Bar shall be “to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour”.
The Malaysian Bar have always spoken up on issues of grave importance to the nation, especially on issues that affect the rule of law and the administration of justice – such as the 1988 Judicial Crisis when the most senior judges including the Lord President were suspended and removed through questionable means and the infamous 2007 “VK Lingam Video Clip” on the unlawful interference into the judicial appointment process of judges.
The Office of the AG and his powers are created by the Constitution. Like any other public office, the AG’s conduct is subjected to public scrutiny and criticism and certainly, his controversial conduct in absolving the PM from any criminal impropriety is no exception.
The investigation into the lawyers’ motion at the AGM is a serious attack on the independence of the Bar and has enormous ramifications on the right of lawyers to uphold the cause of justice without fear or favour and other professional duties.
The public will be adversely affected if lawyers under harassment and intimidation, begin to fear criminal charges or threats to their safety and security for speaking out. It is only when one has to face the full force of the law or any abuse of power that one will truly appreciate the need for a fearless and independent Bar.
The authorities including the police have a duty to ensure that international standards such as the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers (1990) are complied with, in particular:
- Article 16:
Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) … (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.
We therefore call upon the authorities to recognise and respect the important functions played by the Malaysian Bar and cease immediately the criminal investigation against these lawyers.
Lawyers for Liberty