PUTRAJAYA (Jan 14): The Malaysian Bar said on Friday (Jan 14) that there is an immediate need for the formulation of comprehensive environmental laws and a sustainable framework that offers sufficient protection to the people and environment, after the devastating floods that swept across the country last month.
Speaking at the Opening of the Legal Year 2022 at the Palace of Justice here, its president AG Kalidas Krishnan in his keynote address said that while it is a fundamental right under the Federal Constitution for people to live in a safe, clean, healthy and environmentally sustainable society, the country is gravely underprepared for the floods.
“The right for human beings to live in a safe, clean, healthy, and sustainable environment is a fundamental right as enshrined in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution; yet, as a country, we were gravely underprepared for the floods that hit revealing multiple systemic failures,” he said.
“The floods impress upon us that there is a need for the formulation of comprehensive environmental legislation and a sustainable framework that offers sufficient protection to the people and environment,” he said at the ceremony, which was attended by Attorney General Tan Sri Idrus Harun and Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat.
He also stressed the need for accountability in positions of power in public office through close cooperation between people and the government.
“It is only through close cooperation between people and their government and with proper accountability can we come up with effective measures to ensure that we are better prepared to weather present and future challenges,” he said. “We should approach any excision of permanent and reserved forests conscientiously and vigilantly."
Kalidas added that the judiciary must not be allowed to be tarnished by interference in court matters from external parties.
He alluded to a press conference by former prime minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who shortly before he stepped down as premier last year said that he was under pressure from “certain parties” to intervene in matters of the court in order to set several individuals free from criminal charges.
Muhyiddin had said this in a nationally televised address to the nation that he did not bow to these demands. “This included pressure for me to intervene in matters of the court to release several individuals who were charged with criminal offences."
Kalidas said it is the responsibility of each of the nation’s institutions to ensure that no one is above the law.
“It is the responsibility of each of our institutions to ensure that no one is above the law, irrespective of their political or social affiliations.
“Judicial independence is sacrosanct, and forms the cornerstone of a fair and impartial judiciary which is necessary for upholding the rule of law and instilling public confidence. It must not be allowed to be tarnished, and the importance of a judiciary that is insulated from interference in a democracy cannot be overstated,” he added.
Kalidas also said constitutional rights such as freedom of movement, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly must be upheld and not sacrificed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
He alluded to peaceful movements held last year such as the Code Black and Black Monday campaigns by doctors who were fighting for their contracts from the government as well as the #Lawan assembly, saying that these instances of freedom of speech and assembly were not championed by the government.
“A member of our Bar Council present on that day [at the #Lawan assembly], employees of an international media agency in pursuit of investigative journalism, and even members of Parliament were reported to be investigated by the police,”
He noted that as long as Covid-19 health measures are complied with, citizens must be allowed to voice their dissent.
“… the capacity to voice dissent is a hallmark of a functioning democracy. It allows for intellectual discourse and facilitates important socio-political questions. This is integral in ensuring an active civil society and well-informed public.
“Institutions — the bar included — should not be shy of constructive criticism."