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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Malaysia's leader tells lawyers to object less outside courtroom

(IHT, 29/10/2007): Malaysia's prime minister has warned the country's lawyers that their demands for judicial reforms could clash with national interests and send foreign investors fleeing.

The bar council president, however, said that ensuring the rule of law via judicial reforms would be good for investment and is crucial if Malaysia wants to have a modern economy.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said in a speech late Monday that lawyers who staged a rare public demonstration last month to highlight worries about alleged judicial corruption could create "the impression that a problem has reached an intractable impasse — even when in reality, it has not."

"Above and beyond this, it also sends negative vibes to domestic and foreign investors, undermining tireless efforts of industry and government in attracting investments," Abdullah told a conference organized by the 12,000-member Bar Council.

Malaysia's Bar Council has stepped up its calls for reforms amid a scandal sparked last month by an opposition party that released a video clip in which a prominent lawyer is allegedly taped brokering the appointment of top judges in 2002.

About 1,000 lawyers marched through Malaysia's administrative capital Sept. 26, urging the government to investigate the case and change how judges are appointed.

Currently, senior judges are chosen and recommended for appointment by the prime minister, though the king formally appoints them. The Bar Council wants an impartial commission to evaluate candidates.

The government has set up an independent panel to probe the authenticity of the video, but says there is no need to overhaul the judiciary.

Abdullah said the government wants to discuss the legal fraternity's concerns about judicial independence and other issues, but stressed that lawyers "should not be irrationally negative or unduly pessimistic about the progress the country has made."

He said that their protests could create a "negative perception" among foreigners that could cause Malaysia to "fall behind other countries in this increasingly competitive global environment."

Bar Council President Ambiga Sreenevasan indicated that the lawyers are unlikely to change their stance.

"Strong institutions and the rule of law are good for investment," she said in an address to the same conference. "In a nation like ours with aspirations to a first world economy, the administration of justice is key."

"Our criticism is leveled at elements that undermine (judges) and the institution of the judiciary," she said. "When that happens, we will speak and we will defend the institution against those elements." (AP)


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