Contributed by Adilah Ariffin, Executive Officer, with photos by Satha Selvan Subramaniam, Administrative Assistant, Bar Council
Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan (“YBGK”), which will offer legal assistance to Malaysians entangled in the criminal justice system, was set up in early 2011 as a company limited by guarantee. It was officially launched by YAB Dato’ Sri Mohammad Najib b Tun Haji Abdul Razak, Prime Minister of Malaysia, on 25 Feb 2011, and began operations on 2 Apr 2012. Lawyers who do YBGK work will receive payment, and the delivery of YBGK services will take place through Bar Council Legal Aid Centres in the various states (“State LACs”).
As part of the final preparations to enable State LACs to commence YBGK operations, a one-day training session was organised by the Bar Council Ad Hoc Committee on National Legal Aid Foundation on 24 Mar 2012. The event, which was held at the Raja Aziz Addruse Auditorium, Bar Council, was attended by about 50 participants, comprising staff and committee members from all State LACs, and some pupils in chambers from Kuala Lumpur.
In his welcome address at the training session, Lim Chee Wee, President of the Malaysian Bar, explained that the establishment of YBGK denotes a fundamental change in the way the criminal justice system of Malaysia operates. According to him, it will also encourage the development of a new system, in which law enforcement agencies, the Judiciary and Bar Council will work together to improve access to justice for Malaysians upon arrest and when charged in court. He then characterised participants of the training session as “ambassadors and messengers of YBGK”, for they would not only serve as agents to spread word about YBGK, but also help deliver YBGK services in their respective states. He concluded his speech by sharing his hope that the positive cooperation amongst law enforcement agencies, the Judiciary and Bar Council would enable YBGK to become a permanent and effective feature in the Malaysian criminal justice landscape.
Apart from allowing participants to gain a better understanding of the role of enforcement agencies, the training session was also aimed at standardising internal mechanisms and procedures within State LACs, in order to facilitate the smooth delivery of YBGK services. Participants were briefed on strategies that could be applied to minimise possible teething problems that might crop up with the takeoff of YBGK operations. During the training session, it was also highlighted that the success of the YBGK initiative will depend largely on the professionalism and dedication of staff members of the State LACs.
Under the YBGK initiative, law enforcement agencies are required to inform an arrested individual’s family members regarding the arrest. In addition, law enforcement agencies also have to submit information regarding arrested individuals to the YBGK offices via fax as soon as an individual is arrested, so that YBGK lawyers can go to the police station to render legal assistance.
According to available information, about 80% of those who appeared before Magistrates’ Courts in criminal cases throughout Malaysia in the past were unrepresented. Bar Council hopes that the commencement of YBGK’s operations will result in a marked reduction in this figure.