Bar Council denies prejudice, says lawyers can call confidence vote
KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 — The Bar Council has dismissed accusations by Cabinet ministers that it is prejudiced and should be dissolved, insisting it has consistently spoken up for human rights and the rule of law.
Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein accused the Bar Council of “damaging its credibility and integrity” by rushing Friday’s extraordinary general meeting (EGM) where it resolved to condemn the police for alleged brutality when dispersing tens of thousands at the April 28 Bersih rally while Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz said the council “should dissolve itself for bringing disrepute to the legal profession” and mooted a legal academy for all law graduates after the Malaysian Bar also resolved to demand an apology from the home minister and police chief.
But Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee (picture) told The Malaysian Insider yesterday the council “cannot be dissolved” under the Legal Profession Act but “members can propose motions of no confidence against the council members, which has happened in the past but were defeated.”
He defended the council’s move to call for the EGM, pointing out that lawyers have spoken up in the past “against any violation of human rights and failure to uphold the rule of law.”
“Witness the 1988 judicial crisis, resolution in 1998 against police brutality during the crackdowns against reformasi movement, Walk for Justice, etc,” he wrote in an email statement.
Lim said the ministers should have read the Bar’s report first as they would have seen it “is based on observations of a monitoring team comprising at least 80 members of the Bar.”
“It acknowledges good policing which facilitated peaceful assemblies in Johor Baru, Kuantan, Malacca and Ipoh, and observations of unruly and violent behaviour on the part of some of the participants.
“More importantly were observations of police brutality (at least three members of the Bar who are victims)... excessive and disproportionate use of tear gas and water cannons (without warning or necessity and exit route). The police have not learnt from past mistakes,” he said.
He also said that two previous suggestions in 1996 and 2002 to amend the Act to “dilute the independence of the Bar and of the Council or through the establishment of an Academy of Law” were opposed by Malaysian Bar resolutions.”
“The ministers in charge of law then agreed with the position of the Bar, and we see no reason for any change,” he said.
Lim said lawyers were free to set up their own associations such as the Malaysian Muslim Lawyers Association and the Catholic Lawyers Society but “only the Bar Council is empowered under the Act to set the standards, regulate and issue practising certificates.”
But he stressed that the “final report and the resolution are that of the Bar, not the Bar Council. We hope the ministers will provide us an opportunity to explain to them, the doors of engagement should never be shut.”
The Malaysian Bar approved the resolution on Friday after only 16 out of 1,270 lawyers opposed the resolution, which contained findings of alleged police brutality against protesters and members of the media.
A total of 939 votes were recorded in support of the resolution. There are some 14,000 members in the Malaysian Bar.
The April 28 rally, which saw tens of thousands gather at six different locations before heading to Dataran Merdeka, was peaceful until about 2.30pm when Bersih chief Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan asked the crowd to disperse.
But the former Bar Council president’s call was not heard by most of the crowd who persisted around the historic square which the court had already barred to the public over the weekend.
Just before 3pm, some protestors breached the barricade surrounding the landmark, leading police to disperse the crowd with tear gas and water cannons.
Police then continued to pursue the rally-goers down several streets amid chaotic scenes which saw violence from both sides over the next four hours.
Several dozen demonstrators have claimed that they were assaulted by groups of over 10 policemen at a time and visual evidence appears to back their claim but police also point to violence from rally-goers who also attacked a police car.
The police car then crashed into a building before some protestors flipped it on its side.