On 8.6.10, a Committee of Privileges of the Dewan Rakyat had denied opposition leader Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s right for his lawyer’s participation during the hearing of the complaint against him. Similarly, Selangor’s SELCAT (Select Committee on Competence, Accountability and Transparency) denied the right of Kapar MP S. Manickavasagam to have his lawyer participate effectively during the sand mining inquiry. These two incidents are a dangerous encroachment upon the inalienable right of the rakyat to legal advice and representation.
It is particularly disappointing that the Selangor Pakatan Rakyat dominated State Assembly has taken this illiberal and retrogade position. The Selangor State Assembly had on 6 July 2009 amended the standing orders in order to downgrade the role of lawyers appearing before the committee to the role of “watching brief” only. This amendment is contained in rule 6(5) of the new schedule. A lawyer appearing on “watching brief” may speak only with the permission of the committee, thus disabling him from performing his role of assisting and protecting his client.
To reduce lawyers to the role of watching brief is tantamount to denial of the citizen’s right to legal advise and representation. The trend in other Commonwealth jurisdictions is towards increased protection of the rights of witnesses before legislative committees. In New Zealand , natural justice components have been specifically inserted into the rules scheme.
We also note that the Selangor State Assembly in passing the new rule 6(5) is in breach of the “Undang-Undang Tubuh Kerajaan Selangor 1959” which states that a person appearing before the assembly or a committee has the same rights as before a court of law. Without a doubt, these rights would include the right to counsel.
We are disturbed that SELCAT also failed/refused to reply to letters sent by the lawyers acting for the Kapar MP. In their letters, counsel had asked for the opportunity to address SELCAT properly and not just as watching brief and had pointed out the illegality of rule 6(5).
It was an act of great discourtesy for SELCAT to fail/refuse to reply to letters from an advocate acting for a client.
In other Commonwealth jurisdictions, lawyers are allowed to appear before select committees, as can be seen in the much publicized case of Keith Vaz M.P in the United Kingdom . The New Zealand parliament’s standing orders allow counsel to take objections at select committee hearings.
The denial of the right to counsel or the reduction of counsel to a meaningless role, is in breach of the rules of natural justice and infringes the human rights of citizens who are summoned before Federal or State Legislative committees.
We call upon the Selangor State Government and the Federal Government to urgently amend the laws and standing orders to allow adequate legal representation to the Rakyat. In particular, we call for the immediate amendment or repeal of the unjust rule 6(5) of the schedule to the Selangor State Assembly standing orders .
We call upon the above to review the existing standing orders and laws with a view to complying with the requirements of procedural fairness and the principles of human rights.
We call upon the above not to appropriate to themselves powers over the people, except that essential for the smooth running of the respective chambers.
We call upon the above to renew their commitment to the rule of law and to the fundamental rights of citizens.
LAWYERS FOR LIBERTY