Bar Council to sue govt over lawyer detentions

By Deborah Loh (
PETALING JAYA, 15 May 2009: The Bar Council plans to file a civil suit against the government for the unlawful detention of five lawyers on 7 May and for denying them access to detainees.

Other defendants in the suit will be Inspector-General of Police Tan Sri Musa Hassan, and Brickfields OCPD ACP Wan Abdul Bahari Wan Abdul Khalid, Bar Council president Ragunath Kesavan said today.
Ragunath The civil suit was one of the action plans decided at the Bar’s emergency general meeting today, called specifically to pass a motion condemning the government and police for the lawyers’ arrests.
The meeting was attended by 1,428 lawyers, far exceeding the required 500 for a quorum. The motion was unanimously adopted.
The lawyers from the Kuala Lumpur Legal Aid Centre — Fadiah Nadwa Fikri, Murnie Hidayah Anuar, Puspawati Rosman, Ravinder Singh Dhalilwal and Syuhaini Safwan — were arrested after they had gone to the Brickfields police station to meet those who had been detained for holding a candlelight vigil outside the police station. The vigil was held over the arrest of political scientist Wong Chin Huat.
The lawyers were arrested after they had asked to meet the detainees and were denied access to them by the police. They were released on police bail the next day at around 3pm.
On 8 May, some 150 lawyers had gathered at the Jalan Duta court complex to protest the arrest of their five colleagues.
Ragunath said video recordings of the arrests clearly showed that the lawyers did not participate in the vigil.
“Denying them access to detainees is a travesty of justice. There is a need for lawyers to see the accused when arrested or interrogated so that there is public accountability,” he said in a press conference after the EGM.
There was a greater need for public accountability in the police as they used more physical force than any other enforcement agency, Ragunath added, noting that the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) had clear provisions on a detainee’s right to see his or her lawyers.
Hishammuddin should resign
Hishammuddin Hussein (Pic courtesy
of theSun)The Bar Council also called for Home Affairs Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein, as well as IGP Musa, to resign over the incident.
Ragunath took Hishammuddin to task for his remarks that lawyers should not think they were above the law. Ragunath said that police were also not above the law.
“For Hishammuddin to say that lawyers are not above the law is not a reply, is not a solution, is not what we want to hear. We (the Bar Council) had asked for an apology over the arrests, and he gave that response without even investigating what happened,” Ragunath said.
He said while Section 28 of the CPC detailed the circumstances whereby police were allowed to prevent lawyers from meeting detainees, none of those conditions could be logically applied to the lawyers who had gone to the Brickfields police station.
The conditions are if police suspect an accomplice is involved, or if concealment, destruction or fabrication of evidence could result, or if there is intimidation of witnesses.
“I cannot see what or how these reasons apply for denying access to lawyers,” Ragunath said.
Going all out
In addition to the civil suit, the Bar Council also intends to seek a meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak over the matter, lodge a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) to request an inquiry, and seek the intervention of the Chief Justice.
In the EGM motion condemning the government and police for the lawyers’ arrest, the Bar Council noted that the lawyers were made to wear lock-up uniforms and were unnecessarily handcuffed.
The motion also denounced the police for deliberately refusing to give family members and the lawyers of those arrested any information about their arrest and the police’s next course of action.
Calling the incident a “gross abuse of police powers”, the Bar is demanding an unconditional apology from the government to the lawyers.
Lawyers should be allowed to discharge their responsibilities to their clients without threat or intimidation, it added.
The Bar also reiterated its call for the government to establish the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission (IPCMC).