Article contributed by Lee Cher Ling, Member of the Bar; and photos by Siti Norhafizah bt Mohd Umar, Executive Secretary, Johore Bar Committee
The Bar Council Child Rights Committee (“CRC”) has just turned one year old. One of CRC’s goals is to train sufficient lawyers to handle child rights matters, thereby ensure that the best interests of the child are protected. In the past year, CRC had successfully conducted the Elementary Course on the Representation of Children in Malaysia in Kuala Terengganu, Kuala Lumpur and Perak.
On 19 July 2017, the Elementary Course on the Representation of Children in Malaysia was held in Johor Bahru, and 24 enthusiastic lawyers participated in the training. The course was conducted in a combination of lectures, role–playing exercises and case studies. A unique U–seating placement was adopted, and participants were divided into four groups to maximise interaction between participants and trainers.
Module 1: Introduction and Approaches to Representing a Child
The training started off with three awareness short films themed “Stop Nursery Crimes”, which were extremely difficult to watch. The films were created to tell parents how important it is for them to teach their children about sexual abuse — because if they don’t, “someone else will”.
After “shocking” the participants with the Nursery Crimes videos, Ajeet Kaur, Co–Chairperson of CRC gave the participants a quiz on child rights. Surprisingly, the participants differed greatly in their understanding on child rights. Answers to the quiz questions were subsequently given during the lecture. The first part of the lecture dealt with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (“Convention”), which Malaysia acceded to in 1995. The General Principles which play a fundamental role in realising all the rights in the Convention are: Non–discrimination (Article 2), Best interest of the child (Article 3), Right to life survival and development (Article 6) and Right to be heard (Article 12). Even though Malaysia’s accession to the Convention contained a number of reservations, to the extent that the article in question is not inconsistent with Malaysian law, it should still be used to interpret the legal process and laws in Malaysia.
The second part of the lecture was conducted by Yvette Mah, in which she discussed the four distinctly different roles a child’s counsel can assume — instructional advocate, best interests advocate, amicus curiae and watching brief counsel. Counsel’s duties differ depending on the role she/he assumes.
We then had the first role–play session. Before the actual exercise, Ajeet and Goh Siu Lin conducted a role–play session to illustrate the correct way and the wrong way of conducting an interview with a child client. The participants then had a chance to practise their interviewing skills with the trainers. Throughout this role–play session, the participants were taught about the importance of listening to the wishes of the child. Communicating effectively with a child client is definitely a skill that requires learning and practice!
Module 2: Representing a Child in Conflict with the Law
After lunch, the training resumed with Module 2 which dealt with children in conflict with the law. Lee Teong Hooi, a criminal law practitioner shared with us his knowledge and experience in handling cases involving juvenile offenders. When handling cases involving juvenile offenders, it is important for the lawyer to ensure, amongst other things, that the parent or the welfare officer has been informed of the arrest of the child, that the child is not placed in a cell with a detained adult, and that the child is not handcuffed.
Module 3: Representing a Child in Family Custody Proceedings
The last module was about representing a child in family custody proceedings. During this session, Siu Lin presented a great number of custody and access cases to show the participants the approaches taken by Malaysian courts. It is settled law that the paramount consideration in determining the custody of a child is the child’s welfare.
At the end of the training, we had a quick recap — the same quiz questions were asked again, and this time, the participants got them all right. Not only did the Elementary training equip the participants with the legal knowledge required for child representation in either criminal or civil proceedings, more importantly, the participants learned about the approaches to be taken when dealing with a child client — the importance of listening to the wishes of a child and the need to ensure that the best interests of the child are protected.
Last but not least, on behalf of the Johore Bar, I would like to pay my heartiest gratitude to the trainers, for selfless sharing of their vast experience and knowledge on child representation.