The Malaysian Bar is outraged to learn of the police’s recent coercive and strong-arm tactics, whereby police personnel threatened a Member of the Bar, and impeded her from executing her professional duties effectively.
According to the lawyer, Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, when she finally gained access to meet her client at the Ibu Pejabat Polis Daerah Gombak in Selayang, police officers there refused to allow her to speak with him in private. Furthermore, while she was asserting the right to meet her client alone, a police officer stood near the window in the room, pointed at her and said threateningly, more than once, “Jangan sampai jadi macam SPRM”. This outrageous statement was presumably a reference to the well-known deaths of a witness and a suspect that have occurred at the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (“MACC”)’s premises. The lawyer claimed that when she responded, “Are you intimidating me? Are you trying to push me out of the window?”, the police did not refute her.
Such blatant police harassment of lawyers is intolerable, and amounts to a reprehensible and inexcusable menace against the physical safety of the lawyer. It is also a grave incursion on the independence of the Bar and the freedom that a lawyer must have to advise and act for clients without fear or favour. Given that lawyers act as officers of the court when they act for their clients, any interference with their rights and duties is an affront to the dignity of the courts and the administration of justice.
Furthermore, the denial of an accused person’s right to speak to his or her counsel of choice, in private, is a breach of the provisions of section 28A of the Criminal Procedure Code, and an appalling and unacceptable violation of the solicitor-client privilege. It contravenes the right of an accused person to legal representation without any harassment of, or threat against, his or her legal counsel.
It is internationally recognised that lawyers perform a vital function when they act for their clients in the pursuit of justice, and that they must be permitted to carry out these functions freely. For example, Article 16 of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provides that “Governments shall ensure that lawyers (a) are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference; (b) are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and (c) shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics.”
The Malaysian Bar calls on the Inspector General of Police to put an immediate halt to the repeated cases of lawyers being harassed and/or menaced by the police, and to take stern action against police officers guilty of such behaviour. Bullying tactics must not go unchecked.
We also call on the police to respect the Rule of Law and to move away from a “police state” mindset of intimidation and impunity, to the practice of respect for human rights. We urge that more effective and holistic human rights education and practical training be conducted for the police, with a view towards changing law enforcement attitudes and methods in relation to detention and arrest, and treatment of detained/arrested persons.
Lim Chee Wee
13 May 2011