The Bar Council – Toothless Pussy or Roaring Lion?

Edmund Bon’s interview with FMT has resurrected a fresh debate on the role and relevance of the Bar Council as a voice of conscience in civil society. The former Bar Council’s National Young Lawyers Committee Deputy Chairperson (2006/07) and Malaysian Bar’s YL Personality speaks up to call for drastic action by the Bar to answer its woes – organising and agitating a mass of the rakyat to rise. (Perhaps he read this too?)

(fr left) Damian Yeo, Song Siew Funs, Wong Fook Meng, Desmond Ho & Yap Yeow Han

"The Walking Comrades": (fr left) Damian Yeo, Song Siew Funs, Wong Fook Meng, Desmond Ho & Yap Yeow Han at the Bar's historic 2007 Walk for Justice

Edmund’s hard-hitting comments point to the failures of the Council in standing up to the powers that be. It seems that the Council is not muscular enough to deal with the Government on various issues affecting the Judiciary, the legal profession and society in general.

Is the Council a toothless pussy or a roaring lion when it comes to dealing with people in authority? And, can we place the blame squarely on the Office Bearers or the entire Council for supposedly not doing enough?

I think we need to understand how politics works in this country.

The way I see it – if true that the Government is not taking the Council seriously – is because in the eyes of the power brokers, the Council has no real political clout to be a force to be reckoned with.

Why is it that the Bar is not consulted on significant legal amendments to the profession? Why have calls for greater democratic institutions and practices been ignored?

Simple.

We are seen as a bunch of noisy lawyers and nothing more.

Like a spoilt and rebellious kid who kicks up a storm every now and then, we are just tolerated by those in the corridors of power. And if we get out of control, there is the ISA to silence us. The people in authority know that on our own, we cannot touch or hurt them.

So, should we speak or shout louder and organise more marches? Issue more aggressively worded statements more often? Be angrier and bolder?

Seriously, do you think that people with entrenched self-interests, protected by an armoury of power and authority, will shiver in fear when damning press statements are released from the Council’s Secretariat or a bunch of lawyers take to the street?

Let us not “syiok sendiri” and imagine we wield immense influence when in fact we are being pushed around and ignored most of the time.

Don’t get me wrong.

I believe the Council needs to continue to step up the pressure and speak up, and march even, when the occasion calls for it. We cannot sit idly by and fold our arms when there are still so much injustice and flagrant violations of the rule of law in our nation.

The society does take notice of the good work that the Bar has been resolutely and relentlessly doing in recent years to promote the rule of rule and democracy.

But, unless and until we have some real and pervasive influence with the masses, we won’t be taken very seriously. That is why when we had the Walk for Justice in 2007, the then de facto law minister Nazri Aziz said he will ignore us as if we are a NGO and said the Council should register as an Opposition party so that he knows how to deal with us.

The truth is no matter how loud we roar or how many times we march, we can’t do much on our own. I say forget about changing the mindset of power brokers who are hell-bent on protecting their own interests. It is a waste of our time and resources.

Bar will be heard if the rakyat rise and connect

Instead, the Bar should focus on empowering the rakyat with knowledge of the law.

Let the people know that above every ruler is the Constitution; and that no one is ever so mighty that they are above the law.

Initiatives like the Bar’s MyConstitution Campaign are excellent examples of taking the law and putting them in the hands of the people. The people will then know how to demand the government of the day to be accountable.

Forums and seminars where the Bar engages and connects with the people are of critical importance. For example, the Malacca Bar Committee had organised a number of forums on contemporary issues which attracted large numbers. This shows that the law is still very much relevant to the common people and every time we engage in a reasoned discussion of law and politics, it strikes a deep resonance in the hearts of many.

We can’t do it alone.

We can’t march on our own.

We need to do it with the people.

We need the backing of the people.

The Council, no matter who its leaders are, will always be ignored and silenced if it works from an isolated platform.

But, the voices and votes of the millions of the rakyat – well, that is something that no government will take lightly. The Bar will be a force to be reckoned with.

Put the law in the hands of the common people. They are the real roaring lions who will scare the hell out of every corrupt leader and will bring about welcomed democratic reforms this country so desperately needs.

Now the only question is whether the Bar Council will do it or remains detached from the rakyat or worse still, its own members?

LB: This is only popular (well, mostly in Malacca) Fook Meng’s second post for the greatest blawg in the world. His first post is here. He loyars in Malacca and is a member of the Bar Council’s Constitutional Law Committee. He serves as a leader in the City Community Church, and attempts to integrate faith and nation-building in his messages and work. He believes true transformation begins from the inside out and prays that the nation’s leaders will be guided by an inner sense of truth, justice and integrity so that corruption and abuse of power is restrained. Like most Malaysians, he would rather talk about politics than take on something concrete to change things. But, he has realised that unless the ordinary rakyat like him begins to take pro-active steps to push for positive change, things will always remain the same.

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Wong Fook Meng is a lawyer from Malacca and a member of the Bar Council's Constitutional Law Committee. He also serves as a leader in City Community Church. He speaks regularly in churches and attempts to integrate faith with the duties for nation building whenever possible in his messages. He believes true transformation begins from the inside out and hopes and prays that the nation's leaders are guided by an inner sense of truth, justice and integrity so that corruption and abuse of power can be restrained. Like most Malaysians, he rather talk politics than do something concrete to change things. But, he is also beginning to realise that unless ordinary rakyat like him begin to take proactive steps to push for positive change, things will remain the same. His wife, Tan Joo Li, is a principal of a child care center. He hopes future leaders of the nation will have a child-like innocence when it comes to corruption.

Posted on 17 August 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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8 Responses to The Bar Council – Toothless Pussy or Roaring Lion?

  1. It will be our fault if we keep quiet and not challenge by running for election. So we should keep an eye out for our fellow citizens and act by running for election if need be, so that 'Evil Men Do Not Triumph By Our Inaction.'

    Dato' Fook Meng and right minded writers of Loyar Burok, you appear to have the experience and years as well as finances to do this. How about running for election in YOUR constituency with the below 3 items as your goals?

    1) Freedom from Apartheid/Fascism

    2) Freedom from Religious-Persecution/Religious-Supremacy.

    3) Equality for all ethnicities and faiths in all aspects of policy, Law and Constitution.

    Those DAP guys are starting to worry me too . . .

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=31019903&am

  2. Michael

    Nice! in other words, the failure of the Bar Council is also our failure collectively. And if we want the BC to head in a certain direction, we have to push for it

  3. LM Chong

    Can we really blame the office bearers who are duly elected?

    And as a lawyer, u can walk and talk regardless whether the BC walks and talks, no?

  4. kee

    How many lawyers in bolehland actually care for justice except Edmond Bon ???

    I tell you they are more interested sitting in the office, so comfy and attend to cases that bring them money…

    Or, at best, post some articles to the press…

    Bar Council? the most they can do is wearing yellow ribbon, remember, the sacking of Tun Salleh during Mahathir's time.

    A toothless tiger !!!

  5. Jonathan

    100,000 British ruled 350 million Indians for 200 years. In the end it just took one lawyer – Mohandas Karamchand Ghandhi, to get the British out. Today, 64 years later in India, despite, all its disorder, politicians shiver every time a case is filed against them and some quickly comply if it comes for hearing at the Supreme Court…

    Sad to say, our lawyers are the blogging and walking kind. Save for a few and some of those Hindraf fellows who had some balls….in Malaysia, there will never be a Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi….if there was even one……we would have kicked out Mahathir much earlier and would have been free ages ago…

  6. Hi Fook Meng, When you wrote 'I say forget about changing the mindset of power brokers who are hell-bent on protecting their own interests.' I am in complete agreement. The Bar Council seems to underestimate that mingling, dealing or engaging with them has every possibility of their own corruption occurring. Again am in agreement that the Bar Council should join in the effort of nurturing, fostering and encouraging the formation of an environment of legally aware, knowledgeable and courageous rakyat so that they can bring the required change. For them to rush where angels fear to tread and deal with these monsters appears naive and amateurish.

  7. Warga Malaysia

    When a lawyer phoned me the night before the historical Walk for Justice informing the buses chartered was not only for lawyers, public can join, without hesitation, I was on one of those buses headed to Putrajaya.

    On matters for betterment of Malaysia, we rakyat are prepared to back you up

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