HERE are some key events in the 60-year history of the Bar Council.
1947 – Founding of the Bar Council under E.D. Shearn. First executive committee contains notable lawyers like R. Ramani and Yong Shook Lin.
1958 – Bar Council protests against the Public Order (preservation) Bill because of the extensive powers being given even to junior police officersto control riots.
1965 – Government draws up Bill to limit the rights of appeal to the Privy Council in England, which is protested by the Bar. The Bill surfaces from time to time before this right is finally withdrawn in 1985.
1971 – All non-resident lawyers are no longer allowed to practise which leads to an immediate exodus of 63 Singaporean lawyers.
1974 – Former Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman is called to the Bar.
1975-77 – Repeated clash of wills between Bar Council and Government over Essential (Security Cases) Regulations (Escar). During this period, a 14-year-old boy is charged under the Internal Security Act for possession of a firearm and ammunition and tried under Escar. He is found guilty and sentenced to death because the law does not differentiate between a juvenile and an adult. Bar Council calls for a repeal of Escar and at an EGM resolves that members should not appear in trials involving Escar. The AG expresses regret over the resolution. In the following months, several lawyers withdraw as counsel for Escar cases. (The boy’s death sentence was eventually commuted to detention in a juvenile home and he was released some years later.)
1978 – Legal Profession (Amendment) Act 1977 is passed with provisions to allow the AG to issue certificates for foreign lawyers to practise in Malaysia, barred certain classes of lawyers from holding office in the Bar and raised the quorum to one-fifth of its membership. This amendment is regarded as the Government’s retaliation against the Bar’s opposition to Escar.
1981 – 200 lawyers march to Parliament wearing black armbands to protest amendments to the Societies Act and the Constitution. Foty-two are later charged with and found guilty of unlawful assembly.
1983 – Bar Council passes resolution to levy a compulsory subscription of RM100 per member per year towards its Legal Aid Centre Fund.
1985 – Bar Council sets up a committee chaired by former Prime Minister Tun Hussein Onn to review provisions of the Legal Profession Act.
1986 – Lawyer Karam Singh and then Bar Council vice-president Param Cumaraswamy are charged with sedition but is acquitted. The High Court ruling is hailed as a vindication for free speech in Malaysia.
1987 – Government uses Internal Security Act to detain opposition and social activists under Operation Lalang
1988 – Judicial crisis unfolds resulting in the sacking of Lord President Tun Salleh Abas and two senior judges. The Bar opposes the Executive’s actions.
1990 – Bar AGM votes to introduce a mandatory professional indemnity insurance scheme to cover every law firm.
1995 – Hendon Mohamed, the first Malay woman lawyer, is also the first woman elected Bar president.
1996 – Poison-pen letter causes a scandal resulting in resignation of a High Court Judge.
1998 – Perceived inconsistencies in sodomy and corruption cases involving former Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim lead to renewed momentum in Bar’s activism.
2000 – The Bar moves a motion calling on the Prime Minister to make representations to the King for the appointment of a tribunal to investigate the conduct of Chief Justice Tun Eusoff Chin.
2005 – Former Bar Council president Datuk Param Cumaraswamy and several other prominent members walk out of AGM that is allowed to carry on despite the lack of a quorum after the Bar takes the view of several lawyers who feel that a quorum is not required.
2007 – Walk for Justice sees 2,000 lawyers calling for judicial reform.
Source: Justice Through Law; Staric
All for independence
The turning point
Raising the Bar