KOTA KINABALU: Law practitioners in Sabah and Sarawak are capable of handling legal matters in their own states without interference from "outsiders", say the Sabah Law Society (SLS) and the Advocates Association of Sarawak (AAS).
In a joint statement, SLS and AAS said they opposed provisions concerning the extension of the Legal Profession Act 2019 (LPA Act 2019) and the repeal of the Advocates Ordinances in Sabah and Sarawak (the Extension and Repeal provisions) as contained in the proposed draft of the Legal Profession Bill 2019 (the LPA Bill).
SLS president Brenndon Keith Soh and AAS president Ranbir Singh Sangha said SLS and AAS are not in favour of the LPA Act 2019 being extended to either Sabah or Sarawak.
"While we recognise that the existing LPA Act 1976 contains identical Extension and Repeal provisions, such Extension and Repeal provisions should not be included in this current LPA Bill or any future or similar legislation," they said.
"The SLS and AAS were not consulted on the LPA Bill and our position is to collectively and unreservedly oppose the Extension and Repeal provisions and to demand that they be deleted from the bill," they added.
In explaining this, Soh said the legal profession in Malaysia is governed by three separate pieces of legislation, namely the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA Act 1976) for peninsular Malaysia and the respective Advocates Ordinances 1953 (AO) of Sabah and Sarawak.
He said prior to the LPA Act 1976, peninsular Malaysia was regulated by the Advocates and Solicitors Ordinance 1947.
"One must fulfil certain criteria before they can apply and even consider being admitted to practice in Sabah and Sarawak," he said.
"A person must be born in Sabah or Sarawak or has been ordinarily resident in Sabah or Sarawak for a continuous period of five years, or satisfies the Chief Judge that he or she is domiciled in Sabah or Sarawak at the time of applying for admission," Soh said.
He said upon the formation of Malaysia in 1963, the AO of both Sabah and Sarawak were declared federal law by virtue of the respective Modification of Laws (Declaration of Federal Present Laws) Orders for Sabah and Sarawak.
As a result, any amendment to the AO of Sabah and Sarawak must be passed by Parliament, he said.
Under the Federal Constitution (FC), there are two High Courts in Malaysia - one for Sabah and Sarawak and one for peninsular Malaysia, he said.
Soh said Article 161B of the FC - Restriction on extension of non-residents of right to practice before courts in States of Sabah and Sarawak - states that any alteration to the residency qualification by Parliament shall not come into operation until adopted by a separate enactment of the Sabah or Sarawak State Legislature.
He said Article 161B was inserted in the FC as a result of the assurances and express terms of the Inter-Governmental Committee Report (IGC) and the Malaysia Act 1963 (MA63) respectively.
"The AO of Sabah was recently amended by Parliament to create the statutory body known as the SLS," he said.
"The AAS is in the process of similarly creating a statutory body for the legal profession in Sarawak," Soh said.
He said there was thus no necessity to have the LPA Act 2019 extended to either Sabah or Sarawak as both states are able to regulate their own legal professions.
He said this united message will be conveyed to their respective State Attorney Generals who will then be at liberty to convey the same to the Federal Attorney General's Chambers.
"We will similarly be writing to the Bar Council of the Malaysian Bar to record our discontent with the LPA Bill," Soh said.
He added that the removal of the Extension and Repeal provisions would go a long way to recognising the historical autonomy that both Sabah and Sarawak have over the legal profession.