©The Sunday Star (Used by permission)
By Soo Ewe Jin
PETALING JAYA: Freedom of speech is alive and thriving among members of the Malaysian Bar.
With six days to go before the 59th annual general meeting is held again after the earlier meeting was declared null and void, opinion is divided as to how the current state of affairs came about.
The hottest forum for discussion is not via some unknown blog or surat layang (poison pen letter) but on the official website of the Malaysian Bar.
Roger Tan, a lawyer who was elected to the Bar Council in the earlier meeting, said the diversity of views augurs well for the profession.
“There is a high level of discussion going on and the lawyers can disagree without being disagreeable.
“At the end of it all, I believe we will all still be good friends,” he said.
Tan is deputy chairman of the IT committee which is responsible for the operation and maintenance of the website.
The AGM had to be called following the Federal Court’s Oct 7 decision not to grant the Bar leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision, which upheld the High Court’s May 27 decision of declaring the Bar’s March 19 AGM null and void because the quorum was not met.
In his open letter to members of the Bar Council which was posted on the website, Datuk Param Cumuraswamy called on those responsible for “leading the profession in this appalling and undignified state of affairs to take full responsibility and account for the defiant and irresponsible conduct over the last few months.”
Param said they should not “seek re–election to hold any office in the Bar Council in the future” and that they should be “man enough to admit” their wrong.
Commenting on the same issue, Manjeet Singh Dhillon said “egos must have been shattered and mud thrown in many a face.”
Dinesh Kanavaji was also quoted as saying: “I hope never in the future the Malaysian Bar will have to endure such embarrassing moments.
“I must say that despite the embarrassment, we should not go on a witch–hunt against members who have driven the Bar into the mud.”
There were alternative viewpoints.
Sunil Vijayan said: “By all means, take council members to task if and when they fail you, but if they make a call which is bold and daring and choose to defend their interpretation when challenged, even if the same does not find favour with the courts of the day, at least we went the distance, put forward our case the best that we could.”
Another post, by Ong Siew Wan, alluded to the forum called by the Bar Council on July 1 to seek members’ view on how to proceed with the case.
He asked: “Where were those objecting views at the forum? Was that not their responsibility to attend the forum to give their views to help the Bar Council make a decision?”
As the debate goes on, the big question is still whether the required 2,398 lawyers of the 11,000 plus lawyers in the country will show up on Oct 22.
Sunil had a suggestion: “Despite the risk of becoming the most unpopular member of the Bar by making this suggestion, one option would be to introduce (for future years) an additional annual payment by members of RM100 each, which contribution would be waived if quorum is met the first time.
“Therefore, there is an incentive for members to attend. If RM100 does not get members coming, it would call for more drastic measures by increasing the payment to an amount sufficient to 'bring in' the necessary numbers – something like trying to find the 'equilibrium'/'market rate'.
“The beauty is, of course, if enough take an interest, nobody pays!”