Sunday, 4 September 2016

Leave the Bar Council alone

Brave New World (The Star)
13 April 2016

To ensure that the administration of justice is as fair as possible, and to look after the welfare of private lawyers they have to be beholden to no one but their members.


APPARENTLY Wallace Simpson, the woman King Edward VIII abdicated his throne for, said that one can never be too thin or too rich. For the Government of the day, I would add that one can’t be too powerful either.
Firstly there is the proposal that the Attorney-General should be the chairman of the Bar Council. This proposal was made by a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department (who is not, according to her, the “de facto law minister”). It is an unthinkable suggestion and I hope that it never comes to pass.
The Bar Council represents the private lawyers in this country. Their purpose is to uphold the principles that should ensure that the administration of justice is as fair and as compliant to the rule of law as possible. They are also there to look after the welfare of their members.

In order to do this they have to be beholden to no one but their own members. The Attorney-General is the lawyer for the Government. The person who holds the post is beholden to the Government because they are appointed by them and their tenure is dependent on them. The harsh reality is that the position of the Attorney-General is at the whim of the Government.
In this case, how on earth can he or she be a credible leader of the Bar? The Bar has to remain independent in order to speak out against anything which they see is detrimental to their members or the system of justice in the country.
This may on occasion mean speaking out against a government policy or legislation. How can this be done if the chairman is beholden to the Government?
If the Bar Council messes up or acts in a way that their members are unhappy about, they can get voted out. And then a new lot can get voted in.
And this has to be done purely on merit; no racial quotas please (I know it is ridiculous but another high-ranking Government person was suggesting there should be a Malay quota in the Council).
So, really, please just leave the Bar Council alone. There is no point in having one if it is going to be controlled by a government servant; its existence would then have no meaning. Unless of course your agenda is to have as many independent agencies and organisations to be under the thrall of Putrajaya.
Which leads me to the second distressing piece of news. The Court of Appeal has ruled that the Government (be it State or Federal) can sue anyone for defamation. Seriously? Why would they possibly want to give the government so much power?
As it is, if someone says something which is so-called defamatory against the Government, they have a huge arsenal to put such things right. They control the mainstream media, for example, so they can give in-depth interviews and whatnot to put the record straight.
Furthermore, if you think about the resources that the Government has, they can afford to sue as many people as they want. The same access to resources does not exist for most citizens, so the thought of being sued in court, regardless of whether one is convinced of one’s innocence or not, will be a real deterrent.
In a democracy, an elected government must face up to all sorts of attacks and criticisms. They have the resources to defend themselves through media statements and the like. What they should not be given is the power to scare people through the possibility of litigation.

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