A meditation on the Mover’s role at the call to the Bar.
The call to the Bar is one of the most momentous occasions of a lawyer’s life. For it is on that day that he or she is registered on the Rolls of the High Court and has an ‘exclusive right to appear and plead in all Courts of Justice in Malaysia according to the law in force in those Courts’: see section 35 of the Legal Profession Act, 1976 (the Act). Anybody who appears in court to represent a client would be an ‘unauthorised person’ under the Act: see section 37 of the Act. The manner in which the call to the Bar is to be carried out is not provided for in the Act.
The tradition as I understand it here is that after a chambering pupil has completed his chambering period of 9 months, he will then file his long call papers to be admitted to the Bar. He then has to obtain a Mover to move his petition on the hearing date. Though it is not provided for anywhere, the practise is that it is the Master’s responsibility to procure a suitable ‘Mover’ for the chambering pupil. I think this is an excellent convention and would go further and say that it is the duty of the Master to find the Mover. This would also promote better camaraderie and relations at the Bar too.
A Mover is someone who would ‘move’ the chambering pupil’s petition before the presiding High Court Judge on the day of his call. Who qualifies as a Mover? This again is not provided for anywhere. The practise here is that it has to be someone ‘senior’ and I agree with it. One does not send a junior for such a momentous and important occasion just as one would only want to send the best lawyers for an important matter. How senior does the Mover have to be? I would argue that he must have completed 7 years in active practise. This is because it is only after 7 years can one take a chambering pupil: see section 13(1) of the Act. If one is senior enough to take a chambering pupil, it follows that one should be senior enough to move another chambering pupil’s petition. The Bar Council also appears to endorse such a position.
One may ask, why doesn’t the Master himself move the chambering pupil’s call? The reason is simply to avoid a conflict of interest. After all, the chambering pupil is tutored by the Master. What is more the Master also affirms a supporting affidavit for the chambering pupil’s petition, so he would not be ‘objective’ and has a stake in the success of the petition (although it is wholly about reputation and not pecuniary). One may argue that it is usually an uncontentious matter, so one need not be too technical about these things. However, there is nothing technical about propriety or ethics which should not be waived for the sake of convenience. Furthermore, it could turn into a contentious matter if either the Bar Council, Attorney General Chambers or the State Bar Committee representatives raise an objection.
Being asked to move a chambering pupil’s call is also, to me, an honour. Firstly, for the Master to think of and want you to move his pupil’s call means he thinks well of your advocacy skills. Secondly, as a mover you would be akin to the midwife helping the Master give birth to this new lawyer and in doing so would generally be contributing positively to the cause of Justice.
So what exactly does a Mover do? Basically he would make a speech about the accomplishments and the chambering pupil’s character to ‘persuade’ the court that he is a fit and proper person to be admitted to the Bar. If there are 8 chambering pupils, then there will be 8 speeches given, although not all necessarily by different lawyers because a Mover can move a few chambering pupil’s calls in one hearing. The Master has no role to play in the call except to robe the chambering pupil after the High Court has admitted and enrolled them as an advocate and solicitor in its Rolls.
Unfortunately, the call to the Bar has become a painfully tedious, routine and ritualistic affair devoid of any interest or celebration. I place the fault for that entirely with the Mover and Masters. It is so because these days the Mover does not take the trouble to prepare their speeches (I use the term ‘speech’ and not ‘submission’ because there is no reply and to distinguish it).
The unfortunate common practise is now for Mover to ask the chambering pupil to prepare a draft speech for them. They would make minor amendments (if they had time or interest) and then recite, or more commonly drone or mumble, the speech at the hearing with paper in hand sometimes barely 4 inches from their face. Sometimes they don’t even bother to look up from the paper. Or when they do it is as if they were coming up for air only to dive down again. Sometimes they don’t even read the speeches right, even though they do it week in and week out.
And the draft speeches are usually atrocious but what does one expect from someone who has not begun practise? They usually recite where they were born, their parents’ names and jobs, what societies or clubs they participated in from kindergarten right up to university, their hobbies (sometimes) and finally rounding off with a big thank you to their parents, family, boy/girlfriend, their Master and everybody at the firm ‘untuk segala tunjuk ajar yang telah diberi kepada saya’. You would think they were all working off a template and if you did, you would not be far wrong. I understand that the Bar Council has come up with a guideline on what to include in the chambering pupil’s speech and it is made up of all that.
This is a sorry state of affairs. I vehemently disagree with the Bar Council in putting out a guide on what the speech should include. Its doing so indicates that the Bar Council is countenancing this horrendous practise of Movers droning the poorly drafted speeches prepared by chambering pupils during their calls. Routine and tedium is what one is left when standardization is imposed for something that is supposed to be organic, personal and unique to the chambering pupil and Mover. So instead of a joyous spectacle to be cherished, we are left with an experience we would do better not to dwell on. How many chambering pupils in recalling details of their call to the Bar remembers their Mover’s speeches? Not a lot I would imagine. What they would remember of it is what the Mover’s speech has been reduced to – a tedious, boring, forgettable experience.
The speech for the call – its preparation, its drafting and delivery – to the Bar is the sole responsibility of the Mover. The chambering pupil may help with the research, supply the details, organize people whom the Mover would like to meet with but he should not draft the actual speech. The Mover that relies on the speech of a chambering pupil or from someone else abdicates his responsibility not only to the chambering pupil. If you stop to think about it, it reflects poorly on all its participants. It reflects poorly firstly on the Master who did not give much thought to the mover. It then reflects on the Mover because it shows him to be unprepared and disinterested. Finally, it reflects on the chambering student who will have a poor speech recited for him in that the Master did not think him worthy enough to make an effort to get a decent Mover for his call. And that makes for a poor impression if not experience to the friends and families following the proceedings.
Now because most the speeches are drafted by the chambering pupils, they understandably leave out the vital ingredient of the speech – the good character of the chambering pupil. Good character is a vital pre-requisite for a chambering pupil called to the Bar: see section 11(1)(b) of the Act. If the chambering pupil does not possess good character then he would not meet the criteria for being called to the Bar.
It should be noted that this is the only condition that cannot be documented and can only be given by way of the Mover’s speech. All the other conditions (see section 11(1)(a), (c) and (d) of the Act) are fulfilled by displaying the relevant documentary evidence. This is why the Mover’s speech is highly important because it has to make out a prima facie case that the chambering pupil possess good character to be a fit and proper person to be called to the Bar. If he fails to do that, the High Court Judge is entitled to either strike out or dismiss the chambering pupil’s petition.
Unfortunately this portion of the speech is never addressed especially when the chambering pupils draft the speech. It is probably not addressed by the chambering pupil because they failed to do sufficient research on the requirements of the speech. And even when the speech is done by a Mover, he tends not to address this issue probably because he does not know them well enough to attest to the chambering pupil’s good character, or overlooks this requirement.
I know all about this because the first three or four times I was asked to move someone’s call to the Bar – I did what I described above. I would usually meet with the chambering pupil for a meal or drink so I could chat with them to get an idea of what they are like. Then I would ask them to prepare a draft speech to which I made some minor amendments and read out during the call.
I confess that I felt thoroughly awful and guilty when I did it on all those occasions. I felt awful because the draft speech was awful and so my speech was awful. It was singularly uninspiring. The guilt was because I felt as if I had cheated them out of a momentous occasion with my pathetic speech. I had ruined it. Instead of giving something to take away, I had robbed them of it. I was too embarrassed to even receive the chambering pupil’s thanks because I felt I should be the one apologizing if not groveling.
So the next time I got a request to do a call to the Bar, I promised myself to do it better. I would approach it as I would an important contested hearing and so give it my best shot. The wait thankfully did not take too long and I was asked to move my friend’s chambering pupil’s call, an idealistic young Chinese gentleman who intended to practise for a while before making his way to the United Nations. Though I asked him to prepare a draft speech, I only used it to extract facts. When I finally met up with him, I asked better and more relevant questions because I knew the focus of my speech – those facts or features that brought his character to light or afforded me an opportunity understand what kind of person he was. Once I was done with my interview with him, I spent a few hours researching, preparing a draft of my speech and then revising it until I was happy with it – exactly how I would prepare my submissions. This chap inspired me so much that I took the trouble to even memorize a poem the night before to round off my speech for him.
As an aside, this is what the chambering pupil must bring to the mover – inspiration. For myself, they must inspire the mover either by way of their character, intelligence, pleasantness or ambition (not sexual favours or money). Some of those chambering pupils calls I have moved before were so completely bland and boring that they failed to move me in the least. When I engage with them, I get one liner answers or disinterested replies. I have decided that if I am asked to move this type of person’s call in the future, I will decline because they can offer me nothing for their speech. The speech is as good as its subject matter and its mover. If the subject matter is found wanting, there is little a mover can do to make a speech interesting except by lying profusely. As the saying goes, if you have nothing nice to say about a person, best to remain silent.
Coming back to the mains, when I was finally called upon to deliver my speech, and I say this with humility, I was confident and outstanding. Confident because I had the speech prepared, I had gone over it several times and knew it well. Outstanding simply because I was the only one who came prepared with my very own speech. There were undoubtedly better counsels than me moving other calls that day, but I was the best prepared. The other 9 speeches that day were read off the drafts and the difference my speech and theirs was marked.
For me the best part was that everybody enjoyed my speech. There was laughter, there were smiles, there was praise and there was poetry, and the air felt electric again with interest. After the call was done, many complimented me on my speech and I even got a call to move from a lawyer in court that day to move one of his pupil’s call later in the year. The chambering pupil was profuse in his thanks and said he felt so proud that I gave an excellent speech for him. That definitely ranks up there as one of my most memorable occasions in court. It also taught me that it pays to prepare meticulously and do the best I can no matter how grand or humble the occasion.
Later when I had time to contemplate my entire experience on this, it occurred to me how unfortunate it was that most Movers and potential Movers took their task lightly and did not look upon the experience as a valuable opportunity. The call to the Bar is I think one of the best places to develop or shine as an advocate because firstly, it is always not contested. You have no opponent and so there is no stress or pressure. Secondly, there is an expectant and ready audience. Thirdly, you are given a lot of room in your speech and it is much less formal than a inter-partes dogfight. Fourthly, you have time to prepare and research your speech and yourself as much as possible before delivering it. Finally, most of the other Movers are probably going to give the run-of-the-mill speeches, so you will definitely stand out. So to pass up such an opportunity to display your advocacy and intellectual skills to its fullest is quite a shame. It’s almost akin to throwing away money.
If I am asked to move a call again, I would approach it in the same manner but with an improved methodology. This is what I would do:
(1) Still have the chambering pupil prepare his draft speech. There are 2 purposes to this. Firstly to see how he expresses himself and how he thinks about himself. Secondly, to get the facts.
(2) Have at least 2 meals/drinks (time permitting) with the chambering pupil. The second round is just to add more familiarity and to follow up on any other questions that I missed out the first time.
(3) I would ask the chambering pupil to arrange a meal/drinks with their close/good friends and family (at least the parents or a close sibling). This would enable me to get a more rounded and extra dimension to the chambering pupil’s character.
(4) I would then look for a piece of literature (either a prose passage or a poem) to either relate or define the chambering pupil’s character.
(5) Prepare a draft and revise it continuously until I am satisfied with it.
I sincerely believe that if future Movers took the trouble and effort to prepare and work on their own speeches, it would certainly restore the call to the Bar to the joyous momentous occasion it is meant to be instead of the tedious, boring and dry affair that it has become. Some may complain and argue that they would not have time to do all that in preparation of their speech. My retort to that would be see Rule 6 of the Legal Profession (Practice and Etiquette) Rules 1978 which provides that ‘[a]n advocate and solicitor shall not accept any brief unless he is reasonably certain of being able to appear and represent the client on the required day.’ And if they complain that it is too much work for a mere call to the Bar then the complainant has no business moving anyone’s call.