1. Today is no ordinary day, when I am sandwiched between two former Presidents of the Malaysian Bar, only to be followed by the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Malaysia.
2. It is indeed my honour to welcome you all, on behalf of the Malaysian Bar, the body of legal practitioners in Malaysia, comprising approximately 19,700 Members. We have a rich history that spans over 70 years which at its core prioritises matters of justice and the rule of law. We derive this mandate from section 42(1)(a) of our founding charter, the Legal Profession Act 1976, which reads: "to uphold the cause of justice without regard to its own interests or that of its members, uninfluenced by fear or favour;"
3. The Malaysian Bar has been on the frontline in advocating justice, democracy, and constitutional freedoms. The Malaysian Bar holds very dearly the role of the Federal Constitution and the guarantees enshrined in it. This document of destiny is founded on "compromise, compassion, and moderation".
Constitutional and Rule of Law Work by Bar Council
4. We have over the years engaged with the Government, even under the most difficult of circumstances, and embarked on many campaigns in outworking our commitment to the Constitution and the rule of law.
5. The Bar took the leap into its public interest role with first manifesting disagreement to the trial procedures established for "security offences" through the infamous, Essential (Security Cases) Amendment Regulations 1975. This was a seminal moment for the Bar, as its opposition resulted in the then Government pushing for what has been described as "the harshest" and "most savage" amendments to our Act by introducing prohibitive quorum requirements for general meetings, and automatically disqualified certain classes of lawyers from holding office at the Bar, among others.
6. Nevertheless, the Bar continued to be persistent with our aims and objectives. We believe we have truly earned our place as one of the guardians of the rule of law in our nation, and a worthy partner in the administration of justice: ensuring that the scales of power are always balanced. In conformance with our statutory duty, we have never shied away from stepping in and stepping up to the challenges we faced.
7. Of constitutional importance, was the role the Bar played in both the 1988 and 2017 Judicial Crises. The 1988 Judicial Crisis saw the unjustified suspension of the then–Lord President of the Supreme Court, Tun Salleh Abas, and five other Supreme Court judges. While ultimately three were reinstated and three dismissed, the exercise was a chilling moment for the Malaysian Judiciary and the wheels of justice.
8. At the time, the Bar, in recognition of the central role of the Judiciary in Malaysia's constitutional scheme, took all steps within its powers to protect and defend the Judiciary, including initiating legal proceedings against the then newly appointed, replacement, Lord President. Likewise, the 2017 Judicial Crisis, which related to the unconstitutional appointments of the former Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Malaysia, and President of the Court of Appeal, saw the Bar, filing a constitutional reference challenging the constitutional validity of these appointments. These measures were taken at great cost to the Bar, as some of you may have heard before. And coincidentally, the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister himself had filed a similar action, then.
9. We are happy to report that we have come a long way since then. The watershed moment in Malaysian history, the 14th General Elections, saw a turn of events that many thought they would not see in their lifetime. We are now in a period of transition and recovery, as pledged by our Rt. Hon.Prime Minister, Tun Dr Mahathir bin Mohamad, at the press conference that preceded his move into power, to "restore the rule of law".
10. Our relationship with the Judiciary and the Executive has improved immensely and through this we have seen many proposed areas of institutional and law reforms brought to fruition. Moving forward, we hope to continue pursuing our constitutional and rule of law objectives, alongside juggling differing political ideologies and aspirations, and religious sentiments.
11. This paradigm shift has led to the direct appointment from the Bar, for the first time in our nation's history, when Tan Sri Tommy Thomas was appointed as the Attorney General. This in turn has resulted in an opportunity for the Bar to holistically revamp our founding charter, the Legal Profession Act 1976, for which we have been all hands on deck for over a year now. We hope to have it tabled during the upcoming sitting of Parliament this year.
12. The Bar embarked on this herculean task to overhaul our Act in recognition of the internationally accepted principle that an independent and robust Bar is key to a democratic society.
Bar Council and LAWASIA
13. It is the exposition of such values that the Bar turns to the international legal profession and other organisations, such as LAWASIA. The Malaysian Bar has always drawn tremendous solace, support and strength in gatherings like this. Let the spirit and effort expended here never be subverted.
14. The relationship between the Malaysian Bar and LAWASIA dates back to 1966, which resulted in what has been recorded as "the very successful July 1968 Conference in Kuala Lumpur". Through our longstanding alliance, we have had the benefit of relying on the customs and norms propagated by LAWASIA in our quest for justice and truth.
15. It seems only apt that a Conference such as this be held here in Malaysia. Our constitutional and rule of law challenges, while familiar to some, I believe are unique to our society. I am delighted to see that the conference programme is bolstered with doyens of the Bar who have fought many of the Bar's battles. Surely, this is the mark of a conference set to chart history.
16. Allow me also to take this opportunity to invite you all to International Malaysian Law Conference 2020, themed: "Navigating the Present, Exploring the Future", set to take place from 12 to 14 August 2020. For the record, we have extended our invitation to the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister to deliver the Keynote Address of the Conference.
17. I wish all attendees a momentous conference, and hope that there will be ample opportunity to ventilate your concerns, share your experiences, and tap as much as you can in the networking sessions, over the next two days. To guests from overseas, I wish you a pleasant stay in Kuala Lumpur.