Annual Bar Conference 2016: Closing address

The closing keynote was given by the President of the Malaysian Bar, Steven Thiruneelakandan. 

He admitted that his fondness for the UK dated back to his own days as an undergraduate reading law at the University of Leicester. After leaving England, having being Called to the Bar of England and Wales as a Middle Templar, his memories lasted through his 25 years practising at the Malaysian Bar.

His invitation to speak came at a crucial time for the Malaysian Bar, which is currently facing a potential change to their Bar Council in the form of proposals to amend the Legal Profession Act 1976. The proposals are regarded as an attempt to interfere with the independence, management and administration of the Bar; the concern is that independence would be weakened, and performance of statutory functions could suffer. He thanked the Bar of England and Wales, who together with about 20 other leading international law associations and national Bar organisations, have supported the Malaysian Bar.

He spoke of his own experience of the conference and the opportunity to bring to the fore the unceasing tensions faced by the Bar due to economic, political, and internal pressures. He said that in an age of ‘borderless legal services’, the underlying challenge for the legal profession is ‘to venture out of comfort zones and to confront new challenges in the law, without undermining or forfeiting core values’. He lauded the conference as offering ‘a platform for discourse on the need for the profession to be future-proof whilst embracing available opportunities’.

Remarking on the 18 specialist sessions, he said that distinct specialism is inevitable and a worldwide trend. He shared Lord Neuberger’s views in pondering whether increased specialism led to the risk of producing lawyers with narrow focus, and the law becoming incoherent and complicated, or simply better trained lawyers. He concluded, like Lord Neuberger, that it was the latter, and the only way to match the ever-growing volume and complexity of the law in almost all fields.

He said that the focus on the EU had brought into sharp focus the question of the feasibility and effectiveness of regionalism, in the context of an economic community. For Malaysia, as a member of the regional organisation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), it is the third largest populace in the world after China and India. In 2015, the ASEAN economy was valued at US$2.4 trn, making it the third largest in Asia, and the sixth largest in the world. On 31 December 2015, the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) was established to promote an integrated and cohesive political, social, economic and cultural power bloc. It envisions a regional market that allows for the free movement of goods, services, labour, investment and capital across 10 ASEAN member states, so Malaysia is mimicking in reverse the position of the UK.

He also shared the Malaysian judiciary’s experience of e-courts, where the then-chief justice, echoing the Borg from Star Trek, said that ‘resistance is futile’, but that e-documentation was introduced, covering case management system, court recording and transcription, which has resulted in a marked reduction of the backlog of cases, delays and adjournments.

Contributor Melissa Coutinho

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Melissa Coutinho

Melissa Coutinho is a lawyer for the Government Legal Service An accredited arbitrator, qualified PPM practitioner and a magistrate, she also writes and lectures on medical products and their regulation.