(Petaling Jaya, Thursday): The current trend in the increasing use of contempt of court, especially against lawyers, is a matter of grave public concern over the administration of justice in the country, which was again highlighted by two recent events:
At present many judges were "more readily using contempt powers against lawyers and litigants when it should actually be used only as a last resort and as a potent one" as "the use of contempt freely to punish litigants and lawyers is detrimental to the administration of justice".
Bar Council Contempt of Court Committee chairman Mah Weng Kwai said yesterday that lawyers were being cited for even minor things; judges threatening contempt for writing letters straight to a judge and not through his secretary, for not switching off handphones and for filing "frivolous" matters.
He said such matters could be referred to and dealt by the disciplinary board of the Malaysian Bar.
Sulaiman said the free use of contempt of court by the judges had prompted the Bar to submit a draft Contempt of Court Act to the relevant government authorities for their consideration and further action.
The draft Contempt of Courts Act gives a comprehensive definition of contempt, trial procedures and appeal process to avoid ad hoc contempt judgments.
It also protects the freedom of expression in court, fair and accurate reporting of court proceedings and seeks to achieve this without jeopardising the administration of justice.
As nobody knows whether the Bar Councilís draft Contempt of Courts Act would be accepted by the government for presentation to Parliament for enactment, the best solution is for the convening of a Joint Judiciary/Bar Council Conference to liberalise contempt of court law.
In Malaysia, there is virtually a complete breakdown in relations between the Judiciary and the Bar Council which is most unhealthy and detrimental to the administration of justice in the country.
There should be regular meetings and conferences between the Bar Council and the senior judiciary to discuss matters of mutual interest, as for instance, on the increasing use of of contempt of court, especially against lawyers, and how this trend could be reversed and contempt of court law liberalised.
Unfortunately, the relationship between the Bar Council and the Judiciary had become so strained that the restoration of a proper working relationship between the two must be regarded as the topmost priority and the greatest challenge to the Minister in the Prime Ministerís Department specifically assigned the portfolios of law and justice, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim.
For a start, Rais should secure Cabinet endorsement to convene a Judiciary/Bar
Council Conference to liberalise contempt of court law to ensure that it
does not adversely affect the ability of lawyers to render their services
freely, while unprofesional conduct by lawyers are dealt with by the Disciplinary
Board of the Malaysian Bar.