Press Release: Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan Concludes Groundbreaking First Year

Wednesday, 15 May 2013 01:46pm

The Malaysian Bar was pleased to observe the first anniversary of the commencement of operations of Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan (“YBGK”) on 2 April 2013, which marked the conclusion of a dynamic inaugural year. Also known as the National Legal Aid Foundation, the groundbreaking YBGK had been launched by the Prime Minister of Malaysia on 25 February 2011.

The Malaysian Bar acknowledges the Government’s role in this bold initiative, and its commitment and support for the scheme.

YBGK represents a major milestone for the Malaysian criminal justice system, as it gives real meaning to constitutionally-enshrined rights such as access to justice and equality before the law. Under this scheme, free legal assistance is provided to all Malaysians — irrespective of their financial means — at the police station, the remand hearing and when they are charged in court. The existence of YBGK, one of the most successful public-private partnerships in Malaysia, means that every arrested person is given the right to consult, and subsequently be defended by, a legal practitioner.

In Peninsular Malaysia, the YBGK programme is administered through the network of Bar Council Legal Aid Centres that exist in each state. In Sabah and Sarawak, Jabatan Bantuan Guaman — the Government’s Legal Aid Department — works together with the Sabah Law Association and the Advocates’ Association of Sarawak to assist YBGK in its delivery of services.

Since its inception, YBGK has trained a total of 896 lawyers in Peninsular Malaysia, and 1,007 nationwide, over the course of 31 training sessions conducted throughout the country. In Peninsular Malaysia, YBGK operations have covered a total of 66 (out of 106) district police headquarters (Ibu Pejabat Daerah), and over 66 (out of 90) remand courts. YBGK assisted over 37,800 Malaysians in its first 10 months of operation. YBGK lawyers, who are paid for the legal services they render, are now involved in approximately 5,500 remands per month. This figure accounts for roughly 37 per cent of all remands in Peninsular Malaysia.

Prior to the establishment of YBGK, the vast majority of Malaysians were unrepresented during remand, resulting primarily from their lack of financial means to engage a lawyer. The fact that one in three remanded Malaysians now has access to legal representation is a testament to the dedication of Members of the Bar who do YBGK work, and the cooperation of law enforcement agencies — particularly the police — and the Judiciary.

Notwithstanding these achievements, a number of concerns remain, including the continuing difficulty faced by YBGK lawyers in gaining access to persons in police custody, and the lack of time and proper facilities at police stations, remand centres and courts for the YBGK lawyers to meet with the accused persons in private. These constraints adversely affect and detract from the full scope of accused’s constitutional right to legal representation.

The Malaysian Bar urges the Government to address the various shortcomings that have been raised, as the YBGK moves into its second year of operation. The Bar also calls for the YBGK to expand its ambit to serve non-citizens, in order to give meaning to the principles of non-discrimination and equal protection of the law, and to strengthen the rule of law.

The Malaysian Bar records its deepest appreciation to the Attorney General and his Chambers, Judiciary, Jabatan Bantuan Guaman, law enforcement agencies (notably the police), Advocates’ Association of Sarawak, Sabah Law Association, YBGK lawyers, and Bar Council Legal Aid Centres, for their diligence and cooperation, and for rising to the occasion in their efforts to ensure the successful implementation of the YBGK initiative.

The Malaysian Bar looks forward to the Government’s continuing support to ensure the success and sustainability of this comprehensive legal aid programme for those ensnared in the criminal justice system.

Christopher Leong
Malaysian Bar

15 May 2013

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