The Malaysian Bar has received troubling reports that a number of financial institutions in Malaysia, which are allowed to operate while a Movement Control Order is in place, are compelling their panel law firms to adhere to strict timelines in the provision of legal services and the completion of tasks. If these reports are accurate, it appears that these financial institutions are behaving as if it is business as usual.
The Bar Council calls upon banks and financial institutions to not impose unnecessary demands and instructions on their panel lawyers, but to understand the situation on the ground, in light of the directive to close government and private premises, which essentially includes law firms. With the current public health crisis that is faced by our nation, this state of affairs, if proven true, is ethically unacceptable and potentially illegal.
The Bar Council calls upon Bank Negara Malaysia to take cognisance of the requests of some commercial banks and financial institutions in instructing lawyers to perform ordinary works without the privilege of having the physical files and other facilities normally available to them.
In the end, this may result in lawyers being mobilised to return to their respective offices to meet the demand of their bank clients. The Bar Council is concerned that the movement and congregations of lawyers in the firm, in fear of any reprisals from their client banks, negate the social distancing directive of the authorities. There is also the concern that working from the office would be in contravention of the Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (Measures Within the Infected Local Areas) Regulations 2020 (P.U. (A) 91 dated 18 Mar 2020) (“Regulations”), and might carry a penalty for defiance or running foul of the Government Order to close.
Restricted movement and the closure of law practice premises, place limitations on law firms with regard to completion of tasks and the provision of legal services, as well as the adherence to strict timelines. As such, the Malaysian Bar calls upon Bank Negara Malaysia and all financial institutions to suspend or temporarily relax standard operating procedures that require strict compliance with timelines, while the Regulations remain in force.
The COVID-19 public health crisis puts our nation to the test and the Malaysian Bar hopes that all citizens — corporate and otherwise — stand together, arm in arm, to face this unprecedented challenge.
18 March 2020