Making the constitution mine


  • Letters
  • Thursday, 18 Mar 2010

newsdesk@thestar.com.my

Malaysians in general do not know the Constitution, the country’s basic legal framework. The Bar Council hopes to remedy this by raising awareness and educating the rakyat on its provisions

I MUST confess I did not participate in the Walk for Justice during which hundreds of lawyers walked 5km to hand over a memorandum to the then Prime Minister on the state of our judiciary.

I remember reading about the walk and thinking about how brave these men and women were to endure the pouring rain and the authorities for what they believed in. Deep down inside, I regretted that I did not walk with them.

Make no mistake; it was not because I did not believe in the cause. Like the majority of Malaysians at that time, I was appalled at seeing the video of a senior lawyer allegedly fixing judicial appointments with a senior judge.

I have heard of senior lawyers talking about the “good old days”, when we had a judiciary we could be proud of. Yet, despite what I felt about the issue, I did not walk.

I tried to justify my absence with a multitude of reasons. I had matters to attend to at the office. My participation would not have made a difference. There were enough of those who talked to send out the message.

But the fact of the matter is that I lacked the courage to walk.

I was like many young Malaysians out there; angry, frustrated and critical at certain developments in our country. Yet I was not willing to step up and try to do something about it.

All that changed on May 7, 2009, when the Perak Legislative Assembly Speaker was unceremoniously removed from the Perak State Assembly. One could argue over the legal aspects of what happened in Perak prior to that, but there was absolutely no justification for the brute force displayed in the Perak Legislative Assembly that day.

Also on the same day, five lawyers were arrested outside Brickfields police station in Kuala Lumpur. Their only “crime” was discharging their duties to their clients pursuant to the Federal Constitution.

The events of May 7, 2009, was the last straw for me. I could no longer merely complain about the state of affairs. I decided that it was time for me to do whatever I can for the country.

We can no longer allow the violation of the guaranteed rights under the Constitution. The rule of law and supremacy of the Constitution must not be subverted.

Before this, I rarely participated in any Bar Council committees or activities. But after that day, I joined the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee. It was a new committee set up by the Bar Council to promote the concept of constitutionalism and the rule of just law.

In the first meeting, members agreed that there was a need to reverse the lack of constitutional awareness among Malaysians. Malaysians do not know their own Federal Constitution.

In the simplest of terms, the Federal Constitution is a set of rules that govern our country. It provides the country’s basic legal framework. We can imagine the Federal Constitution as the “manual” for Malaysia. Or, if we imagine the country as a traditional kampong house, then the Federal Constitution would be the tiang seri or central pillar. Without it, there would be no Malaysia.

Yet the Federal Constitution is not a document that is easily accessible. The legal language and complex concepts within may intimidate lawyers themselves, let alone the lay person without any legal education.

We must uphold and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of Malaysia. But we cannot do so if we do not know and understand the Constitution.

Unfortunately, what we know of the Constitution has been shaped by what has been reported in the media; the views and opinions of politicians and organisations with ulterior motives. Information on the Constitution thus filtered down to people would inevitably be inaccurate, one-sided and even false.

Thus, a two-year campaign to raise awareness of, and educate the rakyat on, the provisions of the Federal Constitution was born. The aim of the MyConstitution/Perlemba-gaanKu campaign is to bring the Federal Constitution to the people – to “merakyatkan Perlembagaan”.

The campaign is being rolled out in nine phases pertaining to nine major themes of the Federal Consti-tution. It is currently in the third phase of the campaign, which Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim, the Mentri Besar of Selangor, launched on March 1. This phase is in partnership with the Selangor government.

The response to the campaign has thus far been overwhelmingly positive. Since its launch on Nov 13, 2009, the campaign has organised or been involved in many events and functions with various partners.

But it is not enough, and we hope once the Constitutional Law Com-mittee reopens its membership in April, more people would join. After all, the members of the committee are not limited to practising

lawyers; we have with us academicians, activists, media practitioners, students and members of the public.

The campaign provides a platform for a young lawyer like me to try and make a difference. I can no longer suffer to complain, criticise, and whine at coffeeshops and in cyberspace. It has allowed me to contribute whatever I have to a cause that I truly believe in.

I am determined to play a part in a movement that seeks to uphold the Constitution and to ensure its rightful position as the supreme law of the land. In short, the campaign has empowered me.

Who knows, maybe one day I may be able to redeem my “sin” of not walking with my fellow brothers and sisters on that September day in 2007.

> The writer is a young lawyer. Putik Lada, or pepper buds in Malay, who captures the spirit and intention of this column – a platform for young lawyers to articulate their views and aspirations about the law, justice and a civil society. For more information about the young lawyers, please visit www.malaysianbar.org.my/nylc.

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