Malaysian Bar recognises special rights accorded to Sabah, Sarawak

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We refer to recent media reports regarding the proposed Legal Profession Bill in relation to the legal professions in Sabah and Sarawak.

The Malaysian Bar takes cognisance of the views of the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak – who are our esteemed counterparts in East Malaysia – as reported.

The proposed bill was drafted by the Malaysian Bar in order to reform the Legal Profession Act 1976 in a holistic and comprehensive manner. We wish to clarify that the proposed bill will remain in draft form, pending consultation with the relevant stakeholders.

By way of background, Sections 1(2), 2 and 152(2) of the current Legal Profession Act contain provisions that allow the legislation to be extended to Sabah and Sarawak, if necessary.

To date, however, these provisions have never been utilised for this purpose, and the legal professions in Sabah and Sarawak are governed by their own laws, namely the Advocates Ordinance of Sabah 1953 and the Advocates Ordinance of Sarawak 1953, respectively.

The provisions are merely reproduced, without amendment, in the proposed bill. It is emphasised that this reproduction is in no way intended to encroach on any rights that have been conferred on Sabah and Sarawak in governing their legal professions.

We also stress that the consultation process in relation to the proposed bill is ongoing, and that there will be considerable dialogue between the Malaysian Bar and the stakeholders. We therefore welcome the comments that have been made, and we remain open to engaging with parties to discuss their concerns in relation to the proposed bill.

The Sabah Law Society, the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Malaysian Bar enjoy a good and robust working relationship and have forged a close friendship.

In the last several years, formal meetings between the three bars have been convened regularly to discuss matters germane to the legal profession as well as issues of mutual and public interest. It is a testament to the strong bond forged between the three bars, that the frequency of these tripartite meetings was increased in 2013, to two meetings annually.

It was at one such tripartite meeting, in Miri in August 2009, that the three bars — through the Miri Declaration — proclaimed as follows:

(1) We affirm the commitment of the Advocates Association of Sarawak, the Sabah Law Association and the Bar Council to upholding the provisions and the spirit of the Federal Constitution, the Malaysia Act, the 20-points Agreement and the Inter-Governmental Committee Report 1962.

We recognise that these provisions were central to the formation of the Malaysian Federation in 1963, and their provisions safeguard the interests of Sabah and Sarawak. Accordingly, we respect and reaffirm the special rights accorded to Sabah and Sarawak, as enshrined therein, including the exclusive right of audience before the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak and the appellate courts hearing matters
originating from Sabah and Sarawak accorded to advocates of Sabah or Sarawak (as the case may be).

This firm commitment was reiterated in the Kota Kinabalu Declaration adopted by the three bars at a tripartite meeting in Kota Kinabalu in October 2013, as follows:

(1) We affirm the commitment of the Advocates Association of Sarawak, the Sabah Law Association and Bar Council to upholding the sanctity of the Federal Constitution, the Malaysia Act 1963, the 20- and 18-points Memorandums and the Inter-Governmental Committee Report 1962.</p>

We recognise that these documents were central to the formation of the Malaysian Federation in 1963 and established the constitutional scheme on which Malaysia was founded, and further manifest the cherished aspirations of our citizenry to live peacefully and harmoniously as one people.

The Malaysian Bar assures the Sabah Law Society and the Advocates Association of Sarawak that we have always recognised — and will continue to recognise — their autonomy and independence.

We would not take any action – nor would we condone any action – that would result in a curtailment or erosion of such independence, having ourselves fiercely defended the independence of our bar in recent years.

The Malaysian Bar looks forward to further strengthening the ties between our three bars.

Abdul Fareed Abdul Gafoor is president of the Malaysian Bar.

This piece, written on 29 April 2019, is reproduced from here and has been edited for style only. 

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