The Malaysian Bar is cognisant of the rationale and purpose in implementing the Movement Control Order (“MCO”), and commends the Government on taking firm and decisive steps in combating the spread of COVID-19. However, as we draw to the end of the third phase and enter the fourth phase of the MCO, the strain on our economy and systems of national commerce are being pushed to the limit. It has been recognised that the unprecedented challenges and economic and financial devastation wrought by COVID-19 will continue to cast a shadow on our nation for the foreseeable future.
As the regulator for the legal profession, the Malaysian Bar wishes to point out that the legal services industry plays an important role within the Malaysian economic and legal ecosystem, supporting sectors that constitute essential services. Law firms are directly involved in facilitating foreign direct investments, domestic trade, banking and commercial matters, which contribute to the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (“GDP”). Lawyers and law firms must be recognised as suppliers that enable the delivery of essential services.
Lawyers that provide legal representation within the criminal justice system and those who are assisting to battle commercial and civil disputes through the courts, are equally important and also contribute to the vast aspects of the legal ecosystem and the Malaysian economy.
Further to this, if the status quo continues, the economic health of law firms will be impaired and there would be very real prejudice, adverse consequences, and “knock-on effects” to the sustainable recovery of the Malaysian economy. If no adjustments are made, then there are also real risks to tens of thousands of jobs, the majority of which are held by non-legal staff of law firms, within the legal services sector.
The Malaysian Bar therefore, calls on the Government to provide leeway to law firms to operate during the period of the MCO. The legal profession plays a critical and irreplaceable role in the economy by supporting and enabling the real property and banking sectors, as well as operations that include contracts and transactions, capital markets, debt recovery, insolvency and intellectual property (“IP”) protection. Allowing law firms leeway to operate would only be meaningful if other agencies are also allowed to begin operations. This would include the Land Offices, commissioners for oaths, Inland Revenue Board or Lembaga Hasil Dalam Negeri (“LHDN”) offices, Companies Commission of Malaysia or Suruhanjaya Syarikat Malaysia (“SSM”), and various local authorities and government agencies.
The Malaysian Bar recognises that since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the legal profession cannot go back to a mode of operation that was practised before the outbreak. We therefore accept that we will have to work with the Government to come up with a standard operating procedure that will incorporate the requirements and guidelines from the Ministry of Health that is practical and cost-effective. To this end, the Bar Council has been in contact with the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (“MITI”) and other relevant government authorities, in our efforts to move things forward.
We are concerned that the standard operating procedure and operating guidelines for the legal sector during the MCO period that were drawn up by MITI, are too stringent, and this has affected the ability of firms to satisfy the requirement and make applications.
It is imperative that law firms and their employees survive the challenges of COVID-19 and the extended MCO if our nation hopes to successfully recover from this global pandemic.
26 April 2020