1. The Right Honourable Tan Sri Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat, Chief Justice of Malaysia
2. The Right Honourable Dato’ Rohana binti Yusuf, President of the Court of Appeal
3. The Right Honourable Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima David Wong Dak Wah, Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak
4. The Right Honourable Tan Sri Dato’ Sri Azahar bin Mohamed, Chief Judge of Malaya
5. The Honourable Attorney General of Malaysia
6. Honourable Judges of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Court and Judicial Commissioners,
7. The Honourable Sarawak State Attorney General and The Hon. Sabah Deputy State Attorney General representing the Sabah State Attorney General,
8. The Hon. Chief Registrar of the Federal Court and Registrar of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak,
9. President of Advocates’ Association of Sarawak, President of Sabah Law Society and President of the Malaysian Bar,
10. Distinguished guests,
11. Ladies and Gentlemen.
My Lady Chief Justice,
12. It is an honour to stand addressing this august gathering at this solemn occasion of the Opening of the Legal Year Sabah and Sarawak 2020.
13. Last year my predecessor YA Tuan George Varughese had the privilege of appearing at the Kota Kinabalu High Court and this year its my distinct privilege and opportunity to have this right of audience in Kuching.
II. Indigenous Rights
14. Allow me therefore to touch on an issue important to the Malaysian Bar namely the issue of indigenous rights.
15. The Malaysian Bar has always been an active participant of the quest for rights for our indigenous communities, both in Peninsular and East Malaysia, having participated in several activities as well as having initiated several legal actions over the years.
16. For example in Peninsular Malaysia, our Committee on Orang Asli Rights initiated the #getAsli campaign which was aimed at inspiring people to be aware of and understand the difficulties faced by the Orang Asli. We have over the years organised several events including fundraising dinners, and held many outreach trips to bridge the gap in understanding between the Orang Asli and the community at large.
17. In 2014, the Malaysian Bar through our Committee on Orang Asli Rights and Human Rights Committee, undertook a study trip to the Metalun and Tegulang Resettlement Areas in Murum, Sarawak from 17 to 23 May 2014. The primary purpose of the trip was to study the post-relocation conditions of the Penan and Kenyah native communities, which had been displaced by the construction of the Murum Dam.
18. We had at the time, called on both the Federal and State Governments of the day to recognise the rights of the affected indigenous communities and to abide by the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”).
19. Over the past decade, we have seen little effective legislative or executive action to recognise the customary rights of indigenous peoples to their lands, resources and territories despite there being more than a decade of judicial pronouncements by the Malaysian superior courts legally recognising these rights.
20. Moreover, Federal and State Governments persistently attempt to contest, reverse or ignore binding precedent and jurisprudence laid down in landmark cases on indigenous rights leave much to be desired.
21. The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the current Government to honour its election pledges and follow through with its commitment give full effect to the Malaysian courts’ recognition of the customary land and resource rights of indigenous minorities. Indeed, the inalienable right of all our indigenous peoples to free, prior and informed choice as to their future and their way of life, must be genuinely recognised and respected.
22. There are a few aspects of the Malaysian experience that sets us apart, and we believe at the Bar that our positive stance and actions taken as regards our indigenous communities will only serve as a gold standard both regionally and internationally.
III. Working Relationship with SLS and AAS
23. In this regard, we hope at the Bar that we will be able to work together with our longstanding allies at the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak in furthering the rights of our indigenous communities.
24. The Bar has shared a rich history with the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak, having over the past decade, stood together against preventive detention laws such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2015; and the mandatory death penalty, among others.
25. We are currently in engagement with the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Minister’s Office, and other legal sector stakeholders, in coming up with a Blueprint for the Legal Services Sector, and we hope that this will signal a more unified profession, whether as regards the liberalisation of the legal services sector, or the elevation of the quality and standards of the profession nationally.
IV. YAA Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah, Chief Judge of the High Court of Sabah & Sarawak
26. In the coming months, Chief Judge of the High Court of Sabah & Sarawak YAA Tan Sri David Wong Dak Wah will be retiring. His Lordship’s retirement would leave a vacuum in the Judiciary as YAA Tan Sri is known to possess sound judicial knowledge and a good temperament at the Bench. The Malaysian Bar wishes to commend YAA Tan Sri for his good working relationship with the Bar.
27. I must in particular thank YAA Tan Sri for leading the Malaysian Bar Team at the Bar & Bench Games held during the May Day weekend in Singapore. Not only that YAA Tan Sri was the head of delegation, he walked the talk by participating in a gruelling squash match and triumphing over a younger opponent.
28. We at the Malaysian Bar wish YAA Tan Sri not only a happy retirement but also a fulfilling one by actively taking part in the outdoor activities that he is passionate about.
29. We hope that this next decade will see more dialogue and progress between us, and more recognition of the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak when it comes to consultation with the Federal Government.
30. Truly, as equal partners in the legal profession, we stand side by side, in the quest for truth and justice. We are stronger as three, than we are as one. We hope that we will be able to continue speaking with once voice on such matters of public interest and concern.
31. In conclusion, on behalf of the Malaysian Bar, I take this opportunity to wish all members of the Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Chambers, and all my colleagues from Sabah Law Society and Advocates Association of Sarawak a productive new year and a history charting decade ahead.
32. My Lady Chief Justice, I am much obliged.
Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor
17 January 2020