©Malay Mail, 7 Feb 2012 (Used by permission)
by Andrew Sagayam
Attorney–general and Bar Council have conflicting views over number of lawyers
KUALA LUMPUR: The Attorney–General’s Chambers and the legal profession are locked in a disagreement over the launch of the governmentsponsored free legal assistance service for low income earners involved in criminal cases.
The dispute is over the number of volunteer lawyers required to make the National Legal Aid Foundation (NLAF) a success.
The scheme, into which the government had ploughed RM5 million, and which was slated to takeoff in November, last year, has now been put on hold, declared Attorney–General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail.
Both the Attorney–General and the Bar Council offer different numbers of lawyers needed to launch the programme and their contradictory views seem likely to delay the launchof the foundation. Abdul Gani lamented that the NLAF only had 300 lawyers trained for the programme which needs at least 1,000.
NLAF alternate director Ragunath Kesavan and Bar Council president Lim Chee Wee claimed 500 lawyers were trained and that the number was enough to get the service going.
Legal observers questioned why it was difficult to get lawyers to participate in the service when there were 15,400 in the country.
In an immediate response, Lim said not all praticising lawyers were trained in criminal matters (see accompanying story).
Abdul Gani told The Malay Mail the free service was nowhere near ready to be introduced.
He said: “There are not enough lawyers to make the plan feasible just yet. The NLAF needs at least 1,000 lawyers to start the programme.
However, it only has 300 lawyers trained for this purpose.
“We need more to cover the entire country and until we reach that figure, the plan has to be put on hold.
“There should be lawyers throughout the country even in small towns, not just in big cities. People have a right to free legal aid, regardless of where they are.”
Abdul Gani said lawyers for this free legal assistance service were currently only available in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Baru.
His views, however, contradicted with those of NLAF alternate director Ragunath, who claimed there were 500 lawyers ready to kickstart off the programme.
“The 500 we have will be enough to work with for now and we will increase the number as the programme goes on. I strongly believe we should start with what we have and build gradually as we cannot achieve 100 per cent right away,” said the former Bar Council president.
“We have a total of 1,400 lawyers under the programme and the 500 who have been trained are good to go,” he said.
Under the free legal programme, Malaysians who are hauled to court for criminal cases, would be given free legal aid if they earned an income of less than RM25,000 per annum.
Those earning between RM25,000 and RM36,000 a year will need to pay a token RM300 for the service.
Young lawyers stood to gain from the scheme as apart from good exposure in criminal matters, they could earn up to RM250 a day handling remand cases and probably earn RM2,000 to RM3,000 a month from the NLAF.
Previously, lawyers handle cases on a pro–bono basis but resources were often limited.