Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) is concerned after receiving several complaints that Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) has been refusing the right to legal representation to those it has called for questioning or interrogation.
Lawyers were not allowed to be present when their client’s statements are being recorded by the MACC, with the officers saying that the lawyers themselves will have to give a statement if they insist on accompanying their client.
This is clearly a bad faith attempt by the authorities to drag the lawyers in as part of the investigation. MACC officers have had the effrontery to tell lawyers or suspects that it would create a “conflict of interest”, which would render lawyers unable to further represent their client in the case. This is an obvious and unacceptable tactic by the MACC to hinder lawyers from executing their duties to their clients.
This act of intimidation is contrary to the right to legal counsel protected under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. The right to counsel is a sacrosanct principle of a fair and judicious criminal justice system. Its violation poses a threat to all Malaysians and must not be taken lightly.
The MACC has to stop regarding access to lawyers as impeding their investigation. Lawyers ensure that their clients’ rights are protected and play a key role in the criminal justice system.
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The refusal to allow lawyers to accompany their clients therefore is as an act of bad faith by the MACC, especially as other enforcement authorities such as the police and the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission do not bar legal representation during questioning.
This decision by the MACC to bar legal representation for those called for questioning is also applied selectively. Former prime ministers Najib Razak and Mahiaddin Yasin were reported to have had their lawyers with them when their statements were recorded.
Such preferential treatment is an affront to the principle of equality before the law enshrined in our Constitution. The right to counsel must be accorded to all, regardless of status.
Furthermore, the MACC must not be allowed to abuse its power to call people for questioning. Lawyers, who merely function as counsels for their clients when their statements are recorded, should not be intimidated with the prospect that they themselves are then investigated by the MACC.
The powers to examine persons under Section 30 of the Malaysia Anti-Corruption Commission Act 2009 does not allow them to compel anyone not acquainted with the facts of the case to be forced to give a statement.
- We call upon the MACC to immediately stop its unlawful and retrograde act of routinely denying witnesses or suspects legal counsel during questioning
- We call upon the Pakatan Harapan-led reformist government to ensure that the MACC respects the rule of law and the right of suspects and witnesses to legal representation
The right to legal counsel, being a constitutional right, must not be allowed to be disregarded by enforcement authorities like the MACC to the detriment of members of the public.
Zaid Malek is the director of Lawyers for Liberty