Bar Council president Steven Thiru today said that there has been a complete denial of a person's right to legal counsel during two police raids on the offices of electoral reform coalition Bersih and women's rights group Empower.
At a forum on the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma) in Kuala Lumpur today, Thiru said this law, which was applied during both raids, explicitly stipulates a person's right to counsel.
"Sub-section 5(1) says you actually have a right to counsel after arrest but 5(2) states there are grounds for which they can delay that to up to 48 hours.
"There were no arrests. They (authorities) were investigating under Sosma.
"No arrests have been made yet. The arrest came later. They were investigating under Sosma but yet they locked the doors," said Thiru.
In both cases, Thiru pointed out that police had prevented lawyers from entering the premises while the raids were being conducted.
Lawyers can be helpful to cops
Fellow panelist Sivarasa Rasiah confirmed that he was one of the lawyers "kicked out" of the Bersih office when the authorities conducted its raid on Nov 18.
Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah and Bersih secretariat manager Mandeep Singh were arrested at the office after the two-hour raid was over.
Thiru added that lawyers were similarly kept out of Empower's office during the raid yesterday afternoon, despite no arrests being made.
"So to say that this is being done under Sosma is completely unlawful.
"It is a completely unlawful to deny the right to legal conusel. There is no two ways about that," he stressed.
He added that rather than be seen as an obstruction, the presence of lawyer could in fact be useful to the police because they could help ensure there was no dispute on integrity of the evidence seized during any raid.
Thiru also pointed out that while there can be basis for police to deny the right to legal council on grounds of alleged obstruction of justice, it can only be applied in certain conditions.
"You cannot assume that having a lawyer there is an act of obstruction to justice. You can't do that.
"You must be able to prove this particular lawyer is likely to hide documents, destroy documents, therefore we are not allowing him to be in (the premises)," he argued.
On Maria's 10 days detention under Sosma, Bar Council Human Rights committee co-chairperson Andrew Khoo said she was only allowed one meeting with her lawyers, after the initial 48-hour period was over.
"Her subsequent requests (for access to lawyers) were rejected," he said, adding that her legal team were provided with no details of possible charges or evidence being used against her.
Other panelist at the forum, titled "Sosma: The new ISA?", were Bar Council member Ravi Nekoo and Parti Amanah Negara strategic director Dzulkefly Ahmad.-Mkini