Prosecution of YBGK lawyers must adhere to due process

Steven Thiru, President, Malaysian Bar | .

The Malaysian Bar is troubled about the reported prosecution of two Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan (“YBGK”) lawyers, under Section 18 of the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009, in the Kota Bharu Sessions Court on 20 October 2016.
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  It has also been reported that bail was set in the amounts of RM10,000 and RM15,000, and that both lawyers were required to surrender their passports to the court. 
 
The Malaysian Bar hopes that this prosecution was commenced only after a thorough investigation into the allegations against the two Members of the Bar concerned.  In this regard, it must be borne in mind that, as in the case of any person accused of a criminal offence, the two lawyers must be presumed innocent of the allegations made against them, and there must be no pre-judgement of the case.  Further, they must be afforded due process and be given every opportunity to avail themselves of all defences that are open to them in law, for a fair trial.  
 
The Malaysian Bar is holding a watching brief in the matter.  When the charges were preferred against the two lawyers on 20 October 2016, Norazham Yahaya — Chairman of the Kelantan Bar Committee and a member of the Bar Council — held a watching brief for the Malaysian Bar.  The Malaysian Bar takes a serious view of all allegations of unlawful or inappropriate conduct by Members of the Bar, including the filing of fraudulent claims under the YBGK scheme.
 
The prosecution of these two Members of the Bar should not detract from the essential role and invaluable contribution made by YBGK lawyers to the fundamental right of access to justice.  It is noteworthy that more than 900 YBGK lawyers have represented over 500,000 accused persons over the last four-and-a-half years.
 
The YBGK (also known as the National Legal Aid Foundation) scheme, which kicked off in 2012, provides free legal representation to accused persons.  Such legal representation is undertaken by Members of the Bar, at nominal rates.  The establishment of YBGK has thus provided a comprehensive and sustainable legal aid programme for those embroiled in the criminal justice system.
 
YBGK is also an important collaboration between the Malaysian Bar, the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak, the Sabah Law Association and the Malaysian Government.  In Peninsular Malaysia, the Bar Council Legal Aid Centres (“LAC”) work closely with YBGK to assist in its delivery of services, which means that Malaysians who require legal assistance from YBGK need only to contact the nearest Bar Council LAC.
 
The Malaysian Bar continues to be deeply committed to the effectiveness, development and growth of the YBGK scheme, in upholding access to justice for Malaysians.
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