Call on Chief Justice Dzaiddin for judicial leadership to  meet the  equal access to civil  justice needs  of the poor and vulnerable

Media Statement
by Lim Kit Siang

(Penang,  Monday): In admitting 15 new lawyers last week, Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Justice Abdul Aziz Mohamad raised a very pertinent and pressing issue of justice in Malaysia  - affordability and access to civil  justice for the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society including the low and moderate-income groups.

He said that it is sad that a person with a legal problem, especially when it involves an important principle, cannot get justice because he could not afford the legal costs.

Admitting that “the  issue of costs is a controversial one and might even be sensitive”, he confined himself to expressing the hope that the new lawyers he admitted to the bar would be “sensitive towards such a problem and can help to contribute towards the legal aid so that justice can be served more widely on this group of less able people”. (Star  9.2.2002)

Justice Abdul Aziz must be commended for publicly opening up  the crisis  of equal access to civil justice faced by the vulnerable and the poor who are unable, without help, to assert, protect or defend their civil legal rights, but this is a problem which should not be swept under the carpet after  taking a “peek” at it, but must be the subject of serious concern of the judiciary, the legal profession, academicians and the civil society to remove one of the greatest blemishes of our system of justice.

As the  business of the  justice system is justice, the time has come for the judges in the country to play a more proactive role to meet the civil equal justice needs  of the poor and vulnerable in Malaysia.

For a start, a special task force comprising representatives from the bench, the bar, academia and the civil society should be formed and entrusted  with the responsibility to make recommendations as to how a fully integrated system could be developed to deliver  equal access to civil justice to all Malaysians, regardless of income or station.

There is no doubt that to the poor and the vulnerable, the present system of justice in the country  is not only too expensive, cumbersome and incomprehensible  but too oppressive as it is generally deemed to be the fount of injustice instead of justice.

As  the legitimacy of the judicial system must be  gauged against the benchmark of whether it  "promotes justice,"  there must be urgent solution  to the crisis of equal access to civil justice where the poor and  the vulnerable are denied meaningful access to legal counsel because of the prohibitive costs of legal assistance and access, creating a new class of the legally disenfranchised.

The  Chief Justice of the Federal Court Tan Sri Mohamed Dzaiddin Abdullah should take the initiative to provide judicial leadership to  meet the  equal access to civil  justice needs  of the poor and vulnerable in collaboration with lawyers, academicians and the civil society.


*Lim Kit Siang - DAP National Chairman