Although the theme of the conference was "Law and Society in the 21st century", the Malaysian system of justice and rule of law was in the dock.
I commend the Bar Council president, R. R. Chelvarajah for his forthright speech where he stated that nothing is more debilitating to a nation than to have a judiciary which does not command the respect and confidence of the public.
He said that adverse comments on recent Malaysian court decisions in high-profile cases should not be ignored or brushed aside and that persons who made the comments should not be castigated as meddlers in internal affairs but considered seriously with a view to taking such remedial measures as may be required.
Chelvarajah said in the era of electronic communication, even the lay public would be able to make their own judgments. And when too often decisions handed down challenge logic and reason, or result in injustice, confidence in the judiciary is bound to be undermined.
In his speech, the Bar Council president said initially, a good number indicated that they would not attend on principle and as a show of protest, but the Bar Council of Malaysia saw the issue in a different light as it felt strongly that it was because of these present circumstances that distinguished lawyers and eminent judges of the Commonwealth should come together in Kuala Lumpur to discuss openly and make known to the public their common concerns and views.
I note from local mass media reports that some of these "high-profile" cases like the Lim Guan Eng and Datuk Param Cumaraswamy cases took centre-stage at yesterday’s conference, with prominent local lawyer Raja Aziz Addruse and Dan Brennan from the England and Wales Bar Council getting crowd support when they referred to the injustices of these two cases.
As Raja Aziz pointed out at the conference, the legal community was surprised that Guan Eng could be convicted for sedition despite the seemingly insufficient evidence to convict.
He said under the laws of sedition, it had been decided for years that not only must one be proven of disloyalty and disaffection, but also public disorder - and all these three ingredients were not sufficiently proven in Guan Eng’s case.
However, it is not only the Malaysian legal community and the international jurists who are shocked by the worst crisis of confidence in the independence of the judiciary in Malaysia, ordinary Malaysians are also shocked and want urgent actions to be taken to end such a crisis of confidence where there is gaping and growing divide between law and justice, and where courts of law are no more regarded as courts of justice but courts of injustice in cases affecting the interests of the powers-that-be.
This was very evident from the huge crowd of some 5,000 people who packed the Dewan Tunku, Komtar and its environs last night at the "Lim Guan Eng Welcome Back with Honour" ceramah organised by Penang DAP with speakers from leaders from other Opposition parties, the Parti KeADILan Deputy President Dr. Chandra Muzaffar and PAS Youth Leader, Mahfuz Ibrahim.
Last night’s ceramah was significant for two reasons:
Firstly, it was the first time Malaysians regardless of race, religion, age or gender came together spontaneously to demonstrate their commitment to justice by honouring Guan Eng’s release from a year’s imprisonment - a resounding popular vote by the people that they do not agree with the jailing of Guan Eng, which they regard as a grave travesty of justice.
Secondly, the crowd was patient and supportive and stayed on till the
end of the ceramah close to midnight, and at 11.20 p.m, voted massively
and virtually unanimously in a show of hands - and the ceramah was transformed
into a sea of hands raised high - to demonstrate their support that they
send three messages to the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad:
The next general election will in fact decide whether Malaysians can restore justice and democracy and redeem Malaysia’s good name or we will continue to be an international pariah on questions of human rights and the rule of law.