His Royal Highness Yang di-Pertuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Muhriz Ibni Almarhum Tuanku Munawir
Her Royal Highness Tunku Ampuan Besar Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Aishah Rohani binti Almarhum Tengku Besar Mahmud
As the President of the Malaysian Bar, it is my honour to welcome Your Royal Highnesses to the International Malaysia Law Conference 2023.
On behalf of the Malaysian Bar, I would also like to welcome our distinguished guests:
The Honourable Dato’ Seri Anwar bin Ibrahim, Prime Minister of Malaysia
His Highness Tunku Besar Seri Menanti Tunku Ali Redhauddin ibni Tuanku Muhriz
His Highness Tunku Zain Al-‘Abidin ibni Tuanku Muhriz
The Right Honourable Tun Tengku Maimun binti Tuan Mat, Chief Justice, Federal Court of Malaysia
The Right Honourable Tan Sri Datuk Amar Abang Iskandar bin Abang Hashim, President of the Court of Appeal
Yang Arif-Yang Arif
Judges of the Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, and Judicial Commissioners
Honourable Minister and Deputy Ministers
Co-Chairpersons and Deputy Chairperson of the IMLC 2023 Organising Committee
Your Excellencies, Ambassadors, and High Commissioners
Ladies and Gentlemen
1. It is an absolute privilege to address all of you today at this fifth edition of our biennial conference — the International Malaysia Law Conference 2023. A very warm welcome to all, Salam Sejahtera, Selamat Datang, Huan Ying, Vanakkam and Sat Sri Akal.
2. Today’s conference carries the theme “Navigating the Present, Exploring the Future”, and serves as a platform for us to delve into the realities of practising law in a world post the COVID pandemic. The pandemic disrupted every aspect of our lives and became the catalyst that compelled us to adapt, find innovative solutions, and wholeheartedly embrace technology.
Your Royal Highnesses, Honourable Prime Minister,
3. In Malaysia, as in many other jurisdictions, our courts swiftly shifted to virtual proceedings, enabling lawyers to conduct hearings, case management, and even trials online. This rapid transition to remote proceedings was driven by the necessity to keep the wheels of justice turning amidst lockdowns, social distancing measures, and travel restrictions. We witnessed an unprecedented transformation, where the confines of courtrooms were transcended by digital platforms, facilitating the continuation of legal proceedings from the comfort and safety of our own spaces — all of which were necessary to facilitate access to justice.
4. The impact of conducting legal proceedings online minimized physical proximity, and enhanced efficiency. Lawyers, regardless of their geographical location, can now participate in legal proceedings without the need for time-consuming travel or logistical arrangements. This newfound convenience levelled the playing field, allowing legal professionals from all corners of our diverse nation, to engage in legal proceedings on equal footing.
5. Nevertheless, this transition was not without its hurdles such as technological challenges — concerns regarding data privacy and security, and the need to adapt courtroom advocacy skills to the digital realm.
6. The pandemic has further compelled us to reimagine the way we deliver legal services. Virtual consultations and online mediation mechanisms have become the new norm. As we navigate this digital landscape, it is crucial that we ensure the continued protection of client confidentiality, data security, and maintain the highest standards of professionalism as well as ethics.
Your Royal Highnesses, Honourable Prime Minister,
7. I turn to the issue of law reforms. While substantial progress has been made in Malaysia with respect to law reforms, much still remains to be done. On this occasion, I wish to highlight the positive advancement made thus far, and provide suggestions on the way forward to strengthen the institutions in our country.
8. There are 3 significant advances the last year which have strengthened the rule of law in Malaysia:
(a) The implementation of the Anti-Hopping Law;
(b) The abolition of the mandatory death penalty;
(c) The decriminalisation of attempted suicide.
9. The Malaysian Bar acknowledges the progress made and hope that law reforms will not just continue, but done expeditiously. As promised to the rakyat prior to the 15th General Elections, the strengthening of institutions is critical to achieve good governance and curb corruption in our country.
10. As an advocate of judicial independence and law reforms, I therefore urge the following law reforms be made at the upcoming Parliamentary sitting in October:
(a) A straightforward constitutional amendment to the Federal Constitution, specifically to the Second Schedule of Part II, Section 1(b) and (c) of the Federal Constitution where the word ‘father’ in these sections be replaced with the word ‘parent’ — so that our Federal Constitution move with the times and recognises gender equality. Such amendments should be without qualifications or conditions attached. All other problematic proposed amendments by the Home Ministry should be taken out and left for further discussion at a later date. This is a simple and straightforward amendment – it should not be railroaded and delayed due to other issues newly introduced causing unnecessary complication;
(b) The enactment of Political Financing laws;
(c) Amendments to the Judicial Appointments Commission to promote transparency and accountability in the appointment of judges;
(d) Amendments to the Whistleblower Protection Act;
(e) Reforms to the structure of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission to ensure full autonomy and independence;
(f) The separation of powers between the Attorney General’s Chamber and the Public Prosecutor’s office for good governance;
(g) In light of controversial statements made recently with respect to the diversity of our society, it becomes more and more crucial to implement the National Harmony Bills.
11. Your Royal Highnesses and Honourable Prime Minister, one of the greatest source of pride for the Malaysian Bar is the advancement of legal aid programmes in Malaysia — and we do so because we believe everyone must have access to justice. The Malaysian Bar’s legal aid scheme has been in existence since 1972, providing free legal representation for those who cannot afford to pay a lawyer. The Malaysian Bar’s legal aid programme is the only programme in the world where Members of the Malaysian Bar contribute annually to help those in need of legal representation under a means test.
12. The establishment of the National Legal Aid Foundation or Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan, otherwise more popularly known as YBGK, which commenced on 2 April 2012, was a joint effort between the Malaysian Bar and the government to provide legal representation to those in need. YBGK is a government funded legal aid scheme where lawyers provide legal representation to those arrested, detained, charged or prosecuted within the criminal justice system. Since April 2012 till June 2023, YBGK lawyers have represented clients in more than 2 million cases.
13. Experience has demonstrated that there is a dire need to increase the number of lawyers to handle the volume of cases in Malaysia. On this score, permit me to express that the nominal sum paid to our lawyers should match equivalent jurisdictions such as Taiwan, Australia and the United Kingdom.
14. The Malaysian Bar hopes there is room for additional expenditure for YBGK in the imminent Budget, to cater for the demands of those in need, and the lawyers providing such invaluable services.
15. Your Royal Highnesses and Honourable Prime Minister, the Malaysian Bar’s role in upholding the rule of law is not limited to only legal representation, but also to commenting on public matters and issues related to the law. Over the years, we have fearlessly expressed ourselves without fear or favour. The public expects the Malaysian Bar to comment and advise on what the law is, what the law should be and what the law must not be. We shall continue to forge our path forward by holding true to this aspiration.
16. In conclusion, I extend my heartfelt gratitude to all our distinguished speakers, esteemed guests, and participants for your presence and contribution to IMLC 2023. Most of all, my heartfelt gratitude to the Organising Committee and the Bar Council Secretariat.
17. May this conference inspire us all to embrace the transformative power of technology, to continuously enhance our skills, and to strive for a future with law reforms for the sake of our Malaysia.