The Malaysian Bar is dismayed at the Government’s delay in instituting a lockdown of the nation due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases. As of 15 March 2020, there are a total of 386 active cases in Malaysia.1
Since the recent spike in COVID-19 cases,2 various concerned citizens including doctors3 and healthcare frontliners have implored the Government to institute a lockdown of the nation. There are now COVID-19 cases in most states in Malaysia, with a majority in the Klang Valley.4 Many other countries have imposed states of emergency and directives to curb the spread of COVID-19, including heavily affected countries like Italy,5 the United States6 and Iran,7 and less affected countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines.8
The Malaysian Bar is of the view that there must be a multipronged approach, at all levels of society to effectively contain the spread of COVID-19.
The Malaysian Bar believes that the Government should act in accordance with the powers vested in it by the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases Act 1988 (“PCIDA”). Pursuant to section 11 of the PCIDA, the Government may declare that a particular area is infected, and under section 31(t) of the PCIDA, the Government possesses a wide discretion to make regulations for the prevention or mitigation of infectious diseases. If the Government holds the view that COVID-19 does not fall under the definition of infectious disease in the First Schedule, then this can be solved through the inclusion of COVID-19 as one of the infectious diseases in the First Schedule, via an order by the Minister, as prescribed under section 30 of the PCIDA.
In relation to the legal profession, the President of the Malaysian Bar has engaged with the Chief Justice with the view of taking steps to protect members of the judiciary, lawyers and the public at large. These include the suggestion that the Courts be on lockdown for two weeks, with provisions made for urgent matters to be heard during this period to ensure access to justice is not compromised. The Chief Justice is not prepared for a lockdown of the Courts at this juncture, but nevertheless has indicated that the Courts will issue a COVID-19-related standard operating procedure (“SOP”) later today. We take note that the High Court and Subordinate Courts have implemented procedures pertaining to the conduct of case management and mentions in open court, and that all mediation cases be adjourned pending further directions. The Bar Council strongly urges the Chief Justice to take proactive measures and consider the Bar Council’s proposal in the interests of all parties on an urgent basis.
The Bar Council advises Members of the Bar to consider allowing their employees to work from home for a period of two weeks to minimise the risk of contracting the virus. Member firms which are shut down during this period are reminded to inform their respective clients and a clear notice be placed at the firm to indicate how cause papers and other important documents are to be served, and the necessary contact details, if any, provided.
We wish to assure Members of the Bar that the Bar Council will continue to closely monitor the situation and further engage with the Judiciary and the Government in doing our utmost in curbing the spread of this disease.
16 March 2020
1“Infographic: Latest situation COVID-19 in Malaysia”, Ministry of Health Malaysia, Twitter: @KKMPutrajaya, 15 March 2020.
2 “14,500 M’sians at ‘tabligh’ gathering test positive for Covid-19”, NST Online, 14 March 2020.
3 “Doctors call on govt to impose nationwide lockdown after Covid-19 spike”, NST Online, 15 March 2020.
4 “Selangor records 105 Covid-19 cases; highest in Malaysia”, NST Online, 14 March 2020.
5 “All of Italy is in lockdown as coronavirus cases rise”, CNN World, 13 March 2020.
6 “Trump declares national emergency as coronavirus crisis deepens”, Al Jazeera, 14 March 2020.
7 “Iran imposes lockdown to check all citizens”, Yahoo News, 13 March 2020.
8 “Sri Lanka declares public holiday due to concerns over virus”, The Star Online, 15 March 2020; “Philippines closes off capital to fight COVID-19”, Channel News Asia, 15 March 2020.