SIBU: The legal fraternity in the country, especially Sabah and Sarawak, should consider the approaches adopted by other jurisdictions involving costs in civil proceedings.
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Justice Tan Sri Richard Malanjum said there had been no effort to address the issue of costs in civil proceedings although the rates had increased tremendously.
Currently, lawyers were not allowed to ask for contingency fees. As a result, he said, “access to justice may soon become elusive to most people.”
“Some may be compelled to go for out-of-court settlements although they would be entitled to better terms if their cases came to court.”
Justice Malanjum said this at the launch of the book, The Law of Costs in Civil Proceedings (2nd edition) written by senior lawyer Dr Andrew Chew Peng Hui and published by Thomson Reuters.
He said it was time Sabah and Sarawak follow Britain in adopting Legal Expenses Insurance Cover.
Justice Malanjum added the number of people opting for litigation was relatively low due to the high legal costs.
“It’s a fact of life that whoever has money can get the best lawyer in town,” said Justice Malanjum, adding some accident victims were at a disadvantage as they could not afford the legal fees and had to wait months and even years for the insurance payout.
“As a result, they had no choice but to accept only 20% to 30% (of what they could have got).”
Justice Malanjum expressed the hope that lawyers representing insurance companies, would “search your conscience and do it with responsibility” when handling such cases.
He also called on lawyers to help poor indigenous people who were caught in legal wrangles for land with the powers that be.
On how costs are being awarded by courts in Malaysia, Justice Malanjum said they were principally guided by the parties involved.
“Before lawyers come to court in civil proceedings, they should familiarise themselves with legal principles in the award of costs. Those principles have been well discussed in this book.”
Dr Chew concurred that it was time to revisit policies and laws on civil proceedings.
He said in the United States, many cases against big corporations only go to court because of contingency fees.
“The lawyers take all the risks for the legal costs involved if they lose. If they win, they get their fees from money recovered from these corporations,” he said.
In Malaysia, such fees were not allowed.