Thursday, March 14, 2013

‘Bar Council is nobody’s stooge’ | Free Malaysia Today

‘Bar Council is nobody’s stooge’

K Pragalath | March 14, 2013 
 
Bar Council vice-president Christopher Leong insists that the lawyers' professional body is independent and that is why it can engage with different groups without favour.
PETALING JAYA: Bar Council vice-president Christopher Leong today maintained it does not favour any party and is truly independent.

“We have not been conquered by any organisations or political parties. We have always been independent and it is our independence that allows us to engage with all,” Leong said in response to a report in a Malay daily

An Utusan Malaysia report entitled, “Majlis Peguam ditakluki PKR?” (Bar Council conquered by PKR?) was published on Saturday.

The report, based on an interview with Penang Bar member Ranjit Singh Dhillon who is also the Bar Council disciplinary board chairman, claimed that the Bar Council is very pro-opposition and in favour of PKR.
The report states a Bar Council course related to election petition, held on Feb 26, featured PKR deputy secretary-general, Steven Choong.

Participants were required to pay RM26. The session also featured former Bar Council chairman and current Bersih co-chairman S Ambiga, Bersih steering committee members Andrew Khoo who is also Bar Council’s human rights committee chairman, Empower Malaysia executive director Maria Chin Abdullah and election reform watchdog, Tindak Malaysia chairman, PY Wong.

Commenting on this allegation, Leong said that it was “a legitimate topic related to the Federal Constitution”.
“We extended an invitation to Muhammad Shafee Abdullah and Hafarizam Harun to be speakers but they could not attend,” said Leong. Both Shafee and Hafarizam are prominent for representing Umno.

“We had Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz delivering keynote address for a Bar Council forum recently,” he added.

Leong also responded to allegations that the Bar Council has close relations with PKR which was demonstrated through the body’s participation in Bersih 3.0 rally in Dataran Merdeka last year and the People Uprising Rally in Stadium Merdeka in January.

The Utusan report stated that Bar Council chairman Lim Chee Wee was willing to send 78 volunteers from the council to the Bersih 3.0 rally to assist Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim in exploiting a tense situation as they had expected provocation from unscrupulous parties.

“The Bar Council sent monitoring teams to observe, not to participate, in the Bersih rally. That’s why the 78 were all suited up in the hot sun. It was the first rally since that tested the Peaceful Assembly Act,” he said.
Ranjit also suggested that the Bar Council’s annual general meeting (AGM) scheduled to be held this Saturday be postponed as a mark to respect the soldiers who died in the line of duty in Lahad Datu.

Responding to this, Leong said: “Under the Legal Profession Act, the AGM must be held before the end of March annually. I do not see how the AGM can be interpreted as not being sympathethic to the fallen heroes. It is a practice to host the dinner and dance together with the AGM. We’ll continue to support our soldiers.”

Ranjit had also highlighted Lim’s criticism against the government for barring independent Australian senator Nick Xenophon from entering Malaysia last month and Lim’s reluctance to attend the independent panel led by former Inspector-General of Police, Hanif Omar, to investigate the Bersih rally last year.

On Xenophon’s case, Leong questioned why the government was not welcoming dissenting views from an observer.
“Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak in his transformation programme announced that Malaysia must embrace all views, including dissenting views. So why stop Xenophone from observing elections?

“Malaysia is an open and democratic country. What is the government so afraid of?” Leong said in defence of Lim.

On the issue of the independent panel, Leong said the Bar chose to co-operate with Suhakam and not the panel because “Suhakam is empowered to investigate under an act of Parliament”.

He added that the choice was also made as there was no need to duplicate an inquiry already conducted by Suhakam.

Leong also clarified that Ranjit is neither a member of the Penang Bar Committee nor the Bar Council’s disciplinary board chairman as stated in the Utusan report.

Leong said Ranjit is only an ordinary member of the Bar .

“The disciplinary board chairman is retired Court of Appeals judge, Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad,” said Leong.

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