KUALA LUMPUR, 23 June 2009: Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz has promised to look into the Bar Council’s complaints about the arrest of five lawyers in May who tried to represent their clients at the Brickfields police station.
“I have accepted this memo, and [the complaints] are in my jurisdiction, I will try to correct it,” Nazri told the press in Parliament today.
“As law minister, I take seriously the contents of this memo. I want to see that the rule of law is observed,” he added.
The Bar Council today submitted a memorandum addressed to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, that was received by Nazri, to protest against the 7 May 2009 arrest of the lawyers from the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre.
Bar Council president K Ragunath (left) and Nazri
The lawyers — Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Murnie Hidayah Anuar, Puspawati Rosman, Ravinder Singh Dhalliwal and Syuhaini Safwan — were arrested by police when they tried to render legal assistance to 14 individuals who had been arrested earlier that night for “illegal assembly”.
Nazri said that actions that did not respect the rule of law should not be allowed to happen in a developed country like Malaysia.
However, he denied that, in accepting the memorandum, he thought that the action of police officers at the Brickfields police station was wrong.
“In matters concerning the police in this memorandum, I must inform (Home Minister) Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein,” Nazri said, adding he would forward the Bar Council’s memorandum to Hishammuddin tomorrow.
“I will tell him that there are matters in the memorandum that he has to look into, and also take action, so that these kinds of things will not be repeated,” Nazri added.
The Bar Council has previously called on Hishammuddin and Inspector-General of Police (IGP) Tan Sri Musa Hassan to apologise for the lawyers’ arrests.
Hishammuddin‘s response was that lawyers were not above the law.
Section 28A(4) of the Criminal Procedure Code and Article 5 of the Federal Constitution guarantee an arrested individual’s right of access to a legal practitioner of his or her choice.
“It is a sad day when an accused person is seeking legal assistance, and when his [or her] lawyer turns up, the lawyer is arrested in front of the police station,” Bar Council president K Ragunath told a press conference in Parliament today after meeting with Nazri.
“Arresting lawyers in the course of carrying out their duties is a great travesty of justice,” Ragunath added.
Ragunath said the Bar Council memorandum contained a number of recommendations to the government, including the setting of protocols for legal access to accused persons.
“There needs to be follow-up action. It all depends on what action is taken,” Ragunath said.
He added that the legal community required a reiteration from Najib that the rule of law would be respected.
The five laywers who had been detained
Suit against government
Regardless of any apology, Ragunath said the Bar Council would still be pursuing court action against the government.
“The five lawyers were detained overnight. It is their right to take action. We will definitely file [the action] on their behalf,” Ragunath said.
Ragunath also said the Bar Council had lodged a report with the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), as the five lawyers’ detention was a breach of human rights.
“There are provisions under the Suhakam Act which says they cannot proceed with the inquiry if there is an ongoing court action. But we want the inquiry to continue,” Ragunath said.
“So, we will look at how we can carry on with both actions at the same time,” he added.