The statement made by Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Abdul Rahman Dahlan of wanting law firms that support Bersih to be blacklisted by government-linked companies is nothing short of political blackmail and aimed at intimidating lawyers, says Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru.
Expressing outrage, Thiru said such actions should never be accepted, let alone tolerated.
“Such strong-arm tactics have no place whatsoever in the civilised discourse of a robust democracy that respects the rule of law.
“The Malaysian Bar strongly urges the Malaysian government to distance itself from the remarks made by the minister, which are bereft of any good sense, and damaging to the international standing of Malaysia.,” Thiru said in a statement today.
Further describing that such actions are unconstitutional, he said the comments attributed to Rahman are shocking and are a manifestation of a further decline in the level of understanding of the rule of law.
“To advocate that law firms and members of the Bar be punished for professing and practising the principle of the independence of the legal profession is to hold the legal profession to ransom and to blatantly disregard the rule of law.
“The action proposed by him is clearly unconstitutional, as it reeks of prejudice and would contravene the protection against discrimination set out in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution. In addition, Article 5 protects the right to life, which includes the right to a livelihood. Any attempt to victimise lawyers or law firms would impinge upon this fundamental right,” he reminded further.
Previously, it was reported that Rahman said that the government is looking at blacklisting law firms who have contracts with government-linked companies, but are seemed to support Bersih.
The minister’s comments received brickbats from the legal fraternity.
‘Against international law’
Thiru also reminded that such actions, if taken would contravene international law.
He said the Universal Declaration on the Independence of Justice (known as the Montreal Declaration) clearly sets out the following :
- The lawyer in discharging his duties, shall at all times act freely, diligently and fearlessly in accordance with the wishes of his client and subject to the established rules, standards and ethics of his profession without any inhibition or pressure from the authorities or the public.
- Every person and group of persons is entitled to call upon the assistance of a lawyer to defend his or its interests or cause within the law, and it is the duty of the lawyer to do so to the best of his ability. Consequently the lawyer is not to be identified by the authorities or the public with his client or his client’s cause, however popular or unpopular it may be;
- No lawyer shall suffer or be threatened with penal, civil, administrative, economic or other sanctions by reason of his having advised or represented any client or client’s cause
Thiru added that similar principles have been enunciated in the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers.
He said principle 16 states governments shall ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference;
And also that the lawyers are able to travel and to consult with their clients freely both within their own country and abroad; and that they shall not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognised professional duties, standards and ethics.
He said principle 18, stipulates that lawyers shall not be identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of discharging their functions.
‘Must be condemned’
The Malaysian Bar president said the mindset that that law firms and its members can be made scapegoats and be economically blackmailed if they act in any matter that the government considers objectionable, is alarming and must be condemned.
He said all right-thinking Malaysians must recoil from the sentiments expressed by the minister for their purported contrary political views or affiliations.
“Professionals, businesses and traders must not be penalised for providing goods or services to those whom the government arbitrarily labels anti-government or deems unpatriotic.
“The independence of the legal profession is a critical pillar of the rule of law, and must not be threatened by economic sanctions or any other method of reprisal,” he reminded.- Mkini