If the proposal is approved by Cabinet, litigants could end up paying the courts an average of RM12,500 for six full days of trial.
Litigants would be exempted from any fee for the first five hours of the first day of hearing but a fee of RM300 would charged for the subsequent hour that day. For the next five to 15 hours, the proposed fee is RM300 per hour. Between 16 to 25 hours, plaintiffs will be required to pay RM400 per hour and if above 26 hours, a fee of RM500 per hour be charged subsequently.
A day earlier, Chief Justice to the Federal Court Tun Eusoff Chin had said that the imposition of such a fee would prevent cases being deliberately delayed and the calling of unnecessary witnesses. He added that such a move would ensure that all parties involved prepared their cases well before the hearing.
The greatest flaw of the proposal to introduce hearing fees is that while it purports to deal with the problem of delay which is one of the greatest concerns of the public about accessibility to the civil justice system, it has not only ignored but compounded the other great obstacle to the publicís access to justice - the increasingly exorbitant cost.
Instead of ensuring greater access to justice to the poor and low-income, the proposal for imposing hearing fees would make justice even more inaccessible to the poorer strata of society in Malaysia.
Already, the civil justice system is regarded as a game for the rich and a burden for the poor. With the imposition of hearing fees, the cards will be further stacked against the poor and the low-income.
Any reform of the civil justice system to ensure that all Malaysians can enjoy accesss to justice must attack both these problems at the same time to minimise delays and lower costs as well as to improve court efficiencies.
Another flaw of the recommendation of the Conference of Judges is that
its proposal had been made in a vacuum without the input and participation
of the lawyers and most important of all, the public.
DAP calls for Royal Commission of Inquiry involving the public, judges and lawyers to ensure cheap and fast access to justice for all Malaysians, with recommendations within a year to reform and establish a civil justice system appropriate for the 21st century which modernizes the courts, cuts down delays and reduces costs.
The greatest disappointment of the two-day Malaysian Council of Judges Conference in Kuantan, however, is the failure of the judiciary to rise up to the challenges of the time to send out a clear and unmistakable signal to Malaysians and the world that it is fully committed to the principles of judicial accountability, independence, impartiality and integrity and in a demonstrable spirit of openness and transparency, support a review of the Code of Ethics for Judges and an open and credible complaints procedure under the Code.