The High Court of Malaya made human rights awareness a condition to a lawyer being allowed to practise here. Will this be a milestone for human rights development in Malaysia or will it be just a footnote in the history of Suhakam?
Published: Tuesday April 7, 2015 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Tuesday April 7, 2015 MYT 8:29:49 AM
by shaila koshy
IT has been a long road for controversial former cop Judy Blacious Pereira (pic) to be able to practise law. But his legal battle is far from over because the Bar Council is appealing his admission and case management in the Court of Appeal has been set for Thursday.
The public has great interest in Pereira, who was the investigating officer in Sodomy II, especially after a recent tell-all in which he claims he was asked by a third party to subvert the case in favour of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
However, his call to the Bar is of great public interest for two reasons:
>This is the first time human rights has been attached as a pre-requisite to a professional qualification in Malaysia; and
>The judicial branch of Government upholding an objection based on a Suhakam report is a milestone in the recognition of the national human rights institution, unlike the lacklustre interest of the Executive and Legislative branches.
Judy Blacious Pereira, also known as Jude Pereira, 63, first filed his petition to be admitted as an advocate and solicitor in the High Court of Malaya on July 23, 2012.
His short call (usually carried out after the third month of a chambering student’s nine months pupillage) was without incident but the council objected when his long call came up.
On May 7, 2009, five KL Legal Aid Centre lawyers, at the Brickfields police station to represent their clients who had been arrested earlier at a candlelight vigil, found themselves arrested and detained as well.
In charge were Pereira, then CID chief, and then OCPD Wan Abdul Bari Wan Abdul Khalid. A Suhakam inquiry into the incident said in 2010 there was no justification for the detention and the violation of human rights was mainly committed by the two officers, adding that their credibility had been undermined by their “hazy” testimonies.
On Jan 15, 2014, High Court Justice Zaleha Yusof upheld the council’s objections based on the Suhakam report and struck out Pereira’s petition saying: “The petitioner is found to be dishonest when he did not tell the truth while giving his sworn evidence before Suhakam when he as a police officer should respect the sovereignty of the law.
“The violation of human rights, in addition to the mala fide conduct, should not be a characteristic of an advocate and solicitor.”
Justice Zaleha added the council had a responsibility to ensure a high level of professionalism among legal practitioners.
Pereira appealed and in September the Court of Appeal sent the matter back to the High Court.
It went before then Judicial Commissioner Lee Swee Seng in Ipoh because Pereira had filed his petition to be called there.
The council objected again and on Dec 17, 2014, the judge ordered Pereira to attend eight hours of the council or Perak Bar’s seminars and courses on human rights before applying for his admission.
Setting March 25 for Pereira’s call, JC Lee, now a High Court Justice, said the three-month period would be a time of “reflective conscientiousness” and “rehabilitation”.
“He has served faithfully in his duty as a police officer and rose to the rank of superintendent after 37 years. The court has to balance justice with mercy and will allow the petitioner to be admitted after three months on the other side of the fence.”
On concerns that Pereira’s actions resulted in a serious breach of constitutional rights of the detainees and their lawyers, the judge said this was remedied in May when the lawyers were each awarded RM60,000 in aggravated and exemplary damages in their suits against the police and Government, for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment.
At the time, Pereira said: “As the judge said, it (training) is not a punishment. It is for me to get acclimatised because I was in the police force for 37 years and I was already on the other side helping the Bar from the time I was chambering.”
Unable to find a council seminar to attend in the time frame, he told JC S.M. Komathy Suppiah on March 25 that he had on his own initiative attended those organised by Proham and office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
On March 31, the judge allowed Pereira’s admission, on his personal undertaking that he would attend eight hours of the Bar’s seminars within three months.
The public is intrigued – if human rights is important enough to become a condition, is a cumulative eight hours of immersion in such courses, forums, or talks enough to make up the so-called lack?
What is this optimum number of eight hours based on? Should paying damages erase previous actions? Should we not allow for second chances?
Newly elected Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru refused to discuss the matter, save to say: “We filed a notice of appeal against Justice Lee Swee Seng’s decision and the case management has been fixed for April 9. We intend to appeal JC Komathy’s decision as well.”
As for the second matter, it would be interesting to see whether the judiciary’s recognition of the importance of human rights awareness in a lawyer will be a milestone for human rights development in Malaysia or just a footnote in the history of Suhakam’s inquiry reports.
Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Hasmy Agam said they were encouraged to note the importance attached by the Ipoh High Court in ordering Pereira to take up courses on human rights by attending forums, activities or programmes organised by the Bar Council’s human rights committee.
“While the Executive and/or Legislative branches of the Government have been relaxed in following up on the Commission’s many recommendations over the years, our advice has not been overlooked altogether,” he added.
On April 9, when the council’s appeal goes into case management, the court will give directions and the parties will have to comply before the appeal proper.
In cases of appeal, this usually involves checking whether the record of appeal is in order and the grounds of judgment included.