Sunday, February 27, 2011

Legal aid centres lack funding

The Star
by P. Aruna and Wong Pek Mei

PETALING JAYA: The Bar Council has been struggling to provide aid through its 15 legal aid centres nationwide due to lack of funding and a shortage of lawyers willing to provide free service.

President Ragunath Kesavan said it was difficult to cope with the demand as lawyers could not sacrifice much time to do pro bono work as they had a heavy workload of their own.

In welcoming the National Legal Aid Foundation launched by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak on Friday, he said the RM5mil grant provided by the Government would assist the foundation in paying lawyers for their work.

He said the foundation would also facilitate the process of providing legal aid with the cooperation of the police.

“There will now be a ‘duty lawyer’ for every police station,” he said, adding that the police could contact the lawyers “on call” to inform them of new cases which needed legal aid.

The foundation aims to provide legal aid for the low-income group from the day they are charged with an offence until the trial stage.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Process for government land acquisition explained

The Star
by Roger Tan, Petaling Jaya

I REFER to the news report ‘Residents fume over acquisition notices on trees’ (Sunday Star, Feb 20) where I was quoted as saying “the land acquisition must commence within two years from the date the notice was gazetted, or it would be rendered invalid.”

The acquisition notice – Form A, issued under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1960 (“Act 486”) – referred to in the report is actually a preliminary notice that certain lands are likely to be acquired.

The law requires Form A to be published in the Government Gazette in addition to giving public notice of it.

The validity period of Form A is 12 months. If during this 12-month period, the government authority does not publish a declaration under Section 8 of Act 486 (Form D in the Government Gazette), then Form A shall lapse. (Form D declares and particularises the lands and areas intended to be acquired.)

Thereafter, a fresh Form A has to be issued if the government still desires to go ahead with the acquisition of the subject property.

The validity period of Form D is two years after its publication in the Gazette.

During these two years, the land administrator is required to hold an enquiry into the value of the subject property and make an award on the amount of compensation payable to the property owner.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

High time for a new Bar

A common evaluation system is needed urgently to check the declining quality and standard of new lawyers in the country.

It is a matter of grave concern that with about 1000 law graduates entering the legal profession every year, there is no common evaluation system to ascertain and ensure their levels of competence.

The Bar Council has been advocating a Common Bar Course and Examination (CBE) since the 1980s as a single entry point to the legal profession for both local and foreign law graduates.

It is understood that the delay in implementing the CBE is partly due to objections from local universities.

But it cannot be gainsaid that the quality and standard of lawyers have also declined significantly since the 1980s. There is a common feeling among senior legal practitioners that there is an “abject absence of rudimentary legal skills” among the new entrants.

In 2008, a senior judge lamented on the poor quality of locally trained lawyers, describing their standard as ranging from the “good to the grotesque”. (However, some senior lawyers had also opined that the learned judge’s assessment applied equally to the quality of judges since the 1980s.)

For example, one senior lawyer related this incident to me involving a senior assistant registrar (SAR) and lawyers for both the plaintiff and defendant. The SAR was tasked to read the judge’s order relating to costs. Both lawyers recorded the amount of costs with interest at the rate of 80%!

When the senior lawyer asked his assistant, who was the counsel for the plaintiff, about it, the latter said he did not understand why the SAR had mentioned the interest at 80%. He added that when he checked with the counsel for the defendant; the latter said it was common for the court to grant interest at 80%, which is, of course, erroneous!

Hence, the point is, how could one have walked out of the court without even understanding the court’s order? If the parties were not able to understand the order, then they would also not be able to draft the order later. If what the plaintiff’s counsel had said about the SAR and the other counsel was true, then indeed all the three legally trained officers – SAR and the two lawyers - were indeed half-past-six professionals!

Besides the decline in lawyering quality, there is an abysmal language skill especially the command of the English language among the new entrants for practice at the Bar. I have personally received a letter from a young lawyer asking me to “ensure that (our) clients would be executed the documents!”

It follows that it is not unjustified to require the new entrants to also pass an English Language Qualifying Examination. Whilst we can blame this decline on our education system, we cannot ignore the fact that we are living in an increasingly competitive global environment where international business is transacted primarily in English.

It is also in the national interest for us to build up a pool of competent practitioners in international law so that we can put across our nation’s case in international forums and courts, which is made all the more necessary after the Pulau Batu Puteh case before the International Court of Justice.

In fact, there were 13,350 practising lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia as of Dec 31 last year, with more than half having obtained their basic law degree overseas.

The Legal Profession Act, 1976 (LPA) governs the admission of new entrants from various streams to the legal profession as an advocate and solicitor.

To be admitted to the Malaysian Bar, one has to be a “qualified person” as defined in the LPA; attain the age of 18; be of good character and not been adjudicated bankrupt or convicted of any offence; be a citizen or permanent resident of Malaysia; have served nine months of pupillage under a lawyer of at least seven years’ experience; and have passed, or be exempted from, the Bahasa Malaysia Qualifying Examination.

Three tables containing the relevant information of the legal practitioners and their qualifications have been provided, and let me expound on it a little.