PETALING JAYA, 22 April 2009: The Bar Council has formed a constitutional law committee to keep tabs on pressing federal and state-level constitutional issues.
Bon (Courtesy of Edmund Bon)Committee chairperson Edmund Bon explained that the Bar Council was prompted to form the committee in light of several events in the past year. He cited the troubled relationship between the Barisan Nasional (BN)-ruled federal government and Pakatan Rakyat (PR)-governed states as an example.
“We need to see where the constitution stands with regards to Malaysians, and whether there is a need for reform,” Bon said, adding that it was important to see whether the spirit of the Federal Constitution had been diluted or misinterpreted.
“We may then find the constitution to be totally fine. But this process of examination has to happen.”
Bon explained that the constitutional law committee, which was formed on 11 April and will meet by May to discuss concrete plans, hoped to hold a series of dialogues and symposia that would discuss and educate the public on key constitutional issues. He identified these to be:
Federal and state relations; the extent to which federal and state governments have control over natural resources and matters of public governments; and how tussles such as that between the Selangor state and federal governments over water arise.
The fundamental liberties of Malaysian citizens. Bon noted that Malaysians’ fundamental rights, as guaranteed by Part II of the Federal Constitution, is being “diluted on a daily basis by the judiciary.” He added that there may be a need to infuse international human rights norms into the Malaysian constitution.
Emergency laws, such as the Internal Security Act, as provided for by Articles 149 and 150 of the Federal Constitution. “These may have been relevant in 1957. Are they relevant today?”
The democratic separation of powers of the executive, judiciary and legislature. In the 2007 Public Prosecutor v Kok Wah Kuan case, then Chief Justice Datuk Abdul Hamid Mohamad decided that the separation of powers doctrine is merely a political theory that is not consistently reflected in the constitution.
“From these, we will prepare working papers that will include feedback from our speakers and the public,” Bon said.
These broad perspectives would assist the committee in advising the Bar Council on how to deal with constitutional issues, and help it submit recommendations to the government if amendments are deemed necessary.
The constitutional law committee will seek to partner with academics and constitutional law experts, the Human Rights Commission (Suhakam), and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that deal with matters pertaining to the constitution; as well as with students who focus on the subject.
According to Bon, a further aim by the committee would be to raise public awareness about the framework and content of the Malaysian federal and state constitutions.
He revealed that the Federal Constitution, a 1957 result of the Reid Commission, was drafted after limited public enquiries, but saw no real referendum on its key provisions.
The document has since been subject to rampant amendments; as of 2005, more than 650 individual changes have been passed by Parliament.
“Have these amendments been to the benefit of the people? We need greater public discourse. I think that many people really don’t know enough of what the Federal Constitution means and how it affects them,” Bon said.
“People seem to be afraid of the constitution. This unfortunately results in apathy and ignorance, which is not what any civil society should have.”
Bon added that while there are signs of improvement, the process of raising awareness had to be accelerated.
“The constitution is the supreme law of the land. It is the law that allows us to be here, and establishes our institutions to govern our country. We need to get Malaysians to claim ownership of it. Otherwise, they will be less equipped to stand up to tyranny and oppression.”