©The Star (Used by permission)
by SHAILA KOSHY
KUALA LUMPUR: A group of lawyers is bringing disrepute to the Malaysian legal system with claims of being able to “fix” commercial cases.
They are known as the “Dream Team” in the circle of retired gentlemen judges because these lawyers “play ball” with their “coach”, a retired judge, to win big.
Among litigation lawyers, they are referred to as the “syndicate” or “cartel”.
Malaysian Bar president Lim Chee Wee confirmed their existence.
“We are aware of a syndicate of rogue lawyers who boast of mastering the art of influence and inducement outside the courtroom in addition to advocacy in the courtroom,” he said.
“Mercifully, it's a small group.”
He added that the commercial cases they boast of being able to influence include disputes over business contracts and family property and company disputes between shareholders and directors which usually involve millions of ringgit.
Lim, however, stressed: “The vast majority of judges and lawyers are honest, and it is only a few rotten apples who ruin the reputation of the rest.”
He was also doubtful about many of the claims they made, suggesting that “most of their boasts might be mere puffery to trick clients into paying more in legal fees”.
But for some years now, litigation lawyers have been indignant about “the cartel” and the connections they see between some retired judges and lawyers.
They say a retired judge acts as puppet master and a former court officer at times comes in as facilitator.
Litigation lawyers interviewed on the modus operandi of the syndicate gave these scenarios:
> A client contacts a retired judge who then gets in touch with a serving judge.
> While in office, the former court officer would arrange for access to certain judges.
> The former court officer takes advantage of the practice of registrars writing up case notes for appellate judges by suggesting how to skew them.
Asked what action the Bar Council had taken, Lim said it had told Tun Zaki Azmi when he was Chief Justice and his successor Tun Arifin Zakaria of reports that “a few judges received phone calls from retired judge(s) regarding pending cases, allegedly with a view to influencing their decision or grounds, and naturally these right–thinking judges found such approaches to be offensive.”
“The Chief Justices have taken action and I am not aware of any more similar incidents.”
Lim said he had also raised with the Chief Justice and President of the Court of Appeal the Bar's concern over reports that a few rogue lawyers may be influencing registrars who prepare case notes/briefs for appellate judges “with the view of having the contents lean in their favour”.
When contacted, a sitting judge said: “The solution is for all appellate judges to carefully read the written submissions of both counsel and not rely on the case notes.”
Lim said that following media coverage of corruption in the legal system, the council has been receiving information from Bar members and the public.
“We will review the information and if there is prima facie evidence, we will lodge a complaint with MACC (Malaysian Anti–Corruption Commission).”
Lim added: “We are also working closely with MACC to investigate corruption among lawyers who bribe officers/employees of clients to obtain legal work. This is perceived as a rampant practice at financial institutions.
“We hope that the Association of Banks Malaysia will consider assisting MACC on this.”
He urged anyone with any information on the who, what, when and where of corruption to write to firstname.lastname@example.org or contact +603 2050 2013.