High praises were sung at the Universiti Malaya law faculty's jubilee celebration last Friday (June 17). The list of successful alumni is long, and we cheered with great pride that the half-century-old faculty has successfully produced great legal minds. Minds trained to prevail in the national interest and to uphold Malaysian laws, customs and traditions. We cheered even louder when the Prime Minister emphasised the fact that all three branches of government today are led by Universiti Malaya law faculty alumni.
And it occurred to me – isn't this the perfect opportunity to hasten legal reforms and procedures?
In his speech, the Prime Minister identified 147 pieces of legislation requiring reforms. If laws are established for the rakyat, then the laws must evolve just as society progresses according to the values of the time. Archaic and regressive colonial-era laws should and must be repealed.
Let us start with setting up a law reform commission, an independent body that is not under the Attorney General's Chambers (AGC), but led by pre-eminent members of the judiciary, the Bar Council and academia. The law reform commission will not only complement the work of the AGC, but will also increase the efficiency of law-making processes. Retired judges, academicians and politicians have years of accumulated experiences that we can draw upon – let us not waste great talents and minds.
Presently, there is already a law governing the Commissioner of Law Revision and Law Reform under the Revision of Laws Act 1968 (Act 1). However, the law revision and law reform division is under the AGC. Just amend (Act 1) to upgrade the commissioner to a full commission to be a statutory independent body to keep the laws of Malaysia under review and to recommend reform where it is needed without being under executive control.
The restoration of independence to Parliament is also essential for the democratic wellbeing of the nation. The proposed Parliamentary Services Bill shall empower Parliament to determine its budget and staffing.
While we are at it, the AGC must return the parliamentary draftsman to Parliament. He or she should be independent of executive control. This will enable MPs and senators to contribute constructively to the drafting and revising of laws. MPs are lawmakers. Why should we allow only the executive to make new or amend old laws? Lawmakers must be allowed and assisted to execute their role as lawmakers and deliver on promises made to voters. They must have access to drafting expertise, which would be useful for the introduction of private members' bills as and when needed.
Restoring the judiciary
In the presence of the Chief Justice, the Prime Minister also made a fervent commitment to defend judicial independence. The judiciary plays an essential role in safeguarding the rakyat's rights. On June 10, 1988, Parliament amended Article 121(1) of the Federal Constitution to delete the provision which had expressly vested "judicial power of the Federation" in the High Courts and inferior courts of the country. As a consequence, Article 121(1) now only states that those courts "shall have such jurisdiction and powers as may be conferred by or under federal law".
So where does the judicial power now lie? The restoration of the pre-1988 position is important to affirm the doctrine of separation of powers. A study can be commenced to re-examine existing judicial powers to restore to the judiciary the eminence, independence, and strength of an era before the traumatic events of 1988.
As we celebrate the Universiti Malaya law faculty's 50th jubilee, it is perhaps timely to remind eminent alumni to "walk the talk". There is no point in being the product of tradition and success, and yet still cautious of implementing changes needed to bring Malaysia on par with other developed nations.
Aristotelian scholars, known as Peripatetics, were known for their philosophical long walks. It is said that, if you're going to talk the talk, let's walk the walk. But for many Malaysians, suffice to say, we are tired of the "talking". But as lawmakers, let us walk the talk.