Sasha Lyna Binti Abdul Latif was called to the Bar in 2007. She graduated in year 2006 from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). She is currently practicing in Messrs Vazeer Akbar Majid & Co. She is currently serving in the Selangor Bar Committee under the Young Lawyers Committee and Continuing Legal Education Committee as well as being an active member of the KL Bar Legal Aid Centre.
1. You have been an active volunteer for the KL Bar Legal Aid Centre. How long have you been involved with legal aid?
Ever since I started my legal aid duty as a chambering student back in 2006. I was so excited to go for my orientation and I made up my mind that I wanted to do Dock Brief since I found out about the program. The moment I went to Wisma Kraftangan and set foot on Level 6, Legal Aid Room, I was convinced. And I guess I’ve never looked back since then.
2. What made you continue your service for legal aid?
I’m one of the few lucky young lawyers to have a Master (then) and a Boss (present) who was previously a Chairman of LAC, Mr. Stanley Sinnappen. He has always encouraged and allowed me to continue volunteering at LAC.
And also because of all the people I have been blessed to have met who’re a bunch of inspiring and amazing senior lawyers and individuals. Ms. Stephanie Bastian (Executive Director of LAC) and Mr. Rajen Devaraj (Director of Practitioners Affairs) of Bar Council Secretrariat have always been mentors to me and are always teaching and showing me the path to “what is right and what is wrong”. There are also lawyers like Latheefa Koya, Mr. Ravi Nekoo and Amer Hamzah, fellow ex–office bearer’s of LAC, all of whom have taught me a lot on how to be a progressive lawyer and have inspired me to be like them.
I have also met other aspiring, motivated young lawyers who, like me, wanted to do more for legal aid other than the compulsory 14 days legal aid duty. We were fortunate that legal aid had an advanced training workshop for legal awareness and leadership for lawyers. This was how the Legal Aiders first came into place and currently we have about 40 young lawyers as members.
I have always wanted to be a lawyer since I was 11 years old and the reason has always been because I wanted to help anyone in need. We live in a society where it is always the less fortunate who are unable to gain access to lawyers or who are unaware of their rights. Legal aid is the best place where I can do my part and assist these people.
3. Has being a legal aid lawyer changed your character and perspective of the legal profession?
It definitely has changed me and my perspective of the Bar. Personally, it has taught me how to be a wholesome leader, the importance of a person as an individual and as a lawyer to have listening skills, to organize programs and also to conduct training. It has given me the opportunity to meet new chambering students and share with them the path towards becoming a lawyer.
As for my perspective of the Bar, it has taught me the diversity of the Bar. To maintain and bring legal aid to the next level, there are still a lot of Bar members that needs convincing that legal aid is a necessity, not only for the public at large but also for the growth of lawyers.
4. Do you think being a legal aid lawyer has any impact on your legal practice? If it does, how is it so?
Yes, it does have an impact because it makes me think. It makes me think of my future as a practitioner. I often ask myself whether all I ever want to achieve as a lawyer is to become a partner of a firm and then it struck me as to how shallow my thinking was. And then when I joined legal aid, I knew there was a calling for me to do more than just to practice law. It all goes back to my intention and motivation in becoming a lawyer and that is to extend my help to anyone in need. It may sound preachy but I believe that if we can help one person per day, imagine the number of people we’ve helped throughout our entire life. And legal aid is exactly the place to help people in need.
5. With the recent incident of the 5 legal aid lawyers being arrested, what are your comments on that?
I am very much honoured to call all the 5 who were arrested my friends and fellow Legal Aiders. But the fact that they were arrested whilst discharging their duties as lawyers is totally uncalled for. They were merely requesting the police to allow them access to their clients who were arrested and instead they themselves were arrested. As members of the Bar, we should not turn a blind eye to this. We should hold a protest against these degrading acts being done against lawyers.
I am also appalled by the reaction of the police in arresting them and ‘branding’ these lawyers as participants of an illegal assembly. The IGP had reacted in saying that the police merely acted the way they did because he did not wish to see our country becoming like our neighboring country, Thailand. What has that got to do with his police officers arresting lawyers whilst they are discharging their duties as lawyers? I feel that this is the normal reaction of the police to these sort of events so that the public will be clouded by the facts as to what really happened on that fateful night, 7th May 2009.
I really hope that this event would open the eyes of other members of the Bar. There is a pressing need for us to uphold the law and not let the authorities get away with their shameful acts and hide in the name of enforcing the law. It is also an eye opener to me and hopefully to others that if a lawyer can be arrested and be wrongfully accused, how many more innocent members of the public have been and would be facing this kind of treatment?
6. What is your personal view of the right to legal representation as prescribed in Section 28A Criminal Procedure Code?
I believe that every human being deserves the right to legal representation. And I verily believe that very few members of the public actually know their rights as a human being, as a citizen and as an individual. Lawyers who know the law have the duty and responsibility to ensure that the public are aware of their rights and should be able to uphold and protect these rights. But the problem arises when lawyers themselves are unsure or uncertain of their own rights and duties. It doesn’t matter what areas of practice you are in, whether you do litigation or corporate but the fact is we are all lawyers and members of the Bar.
Hence, when a person is detained and is arrested, lawyers should be given access to such a person so that he or she can be advised as to his or her rights as a detained and arrested person. This is also to avoid any mal–treatment of the detainee and to ensure that everything is done according to the law and procedure. Isn’t it obvious that when persons are denied access to legal representation, it just goes to show that there is something for the police to hide?
7. What are the challenges you have faced as a legal aid lawyer?
The biggest challenge I face is to urge young lawyers to join Legal Aid Centre after their 14 days duty is over. I think there is still this stigma amongst all lawyers that legal aid work only means taking up legal aid files and that you have to be a criminal litigator.
I think it should be mentioned that legal aid duty surpasses that. There are so many levels and variety of ways for a lawyer to be involved in legal aid. There is a resolution by the Bar Council stating that legal aid is not only for impecunious people but also for matters of public interest litigation. Hence, if a lawyer feels that he/she is not a litigator and is not comfortable to appear in Court, he or she can join us in the various programs and trainings organized by the LAC.
8. There has been quite frequent public rallies and protest recently. What do you think of freedom of speech and expression in this country?
First and foremost, it is a right that is provided for in the Federal Constitution and every lawyer and member of the public should be aware of this. Hence, any law that infringes my right to freedom of speech and expression, to me is a draconian law. I personally feel that Malaysians are not at all violent and we would never resolve to act violently. Of all the rallies I have been to, to act as an observer lawyer under the LAC or under the Bar Council Human Rights Committee or as part of the urgent arrest team, there has never been any violence involved and more often it is the police who intimidate the participants of these peaceful assemblies.
We should also go back to history and ask ourselves how we attained independence. Wasn’t it by initiating protests against the British? Didn’t our forefathers and current leaders more than once take part in rallies? How was it that they were allowed to express their freedom of speech and expression then, and now, after 52 years of Independence we are suddenly not allowed to do so?
The reason citizen goes to the street is because something is not right and it is never because any individual wants to create chaos.
9. How do you think the legal aid centres in Malaysia can improve to serve the public better?
The decision of the KLLAC to have a legal aid room in the Court is a good move to give better access to the public. The public should also be informed that there is a vast difference between the Bar Council Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre and the Legal Aid Bureau. This is because more often than not, members of the public would go to Legal Aid Bureau and get turned away because the bureau does not take any criminal matter. But the BCKLLAC does deal with criminal matters and we need more volunteer lawyers. Hence, promoting the kind of matters that legal aid can assist in is of utmost importance.
And I really think that the other state Legal Aid centre, apart from K.L should have the same programs and trainings like we do so that it can encourage more lawyers to join legal aid. The more lawyers we have, the more members of the public we can have access to.
10. What do you think the Malaysian Bar should do to encourage more volunteer lawyers to do legal aid?
We should all strive and ask for government funding, as what the National Legal Aid Committee is urging the government to provide for lawyers so that volunteer lawyers will be paid to take up legal aid files. I guess with some kind of remuneration program, more and more lawyers would be more willing to volunteer for legal aid.
The Bar should encourage more senior lawyers to allow their young lawyers to spend some of their time doing legal aid. This is because most of the young lawyers I have met have expressed their desire to do legal aid but according to them it is something that the partners of their firms frown upon and some say a waste of time. I personally think that these kinds of remarks are unnecessary and that in joining legal aid there are more gains than losses.
I’ve said this before but I really think it is necessary for State legal aid centres other than K.L to have programs like in KLLAC especially in training lawyers in leadership and legal awareness, so that they are aware of their own rights and to brush up on their skills and knowledge as lawyers and individuals.
And I also think that we should start from the university level before these undergraduates come and join us so that we can highlight the importance and the necessity of having legal aid. Apart from that it would be an initial introduction to those who are interested to continue or pursue their legal careers on the roles and responsibilities of a lawyer.
And lastly, the Bar should highlight to all members of the Bar that legal aid is not only important for the public but also for lawyers to gain more experience in all sorts of areas, as an individual and as a member of the public at large.