After watching the recent Hong Kong lawyer TV series “Yes, Your Honor”, I felt that it was filmed differently from the usual legal series; that is, it has more sense of reality. This drama also allows the audience to have a better understanding the bitterness and challenges behind the legal industry. What impressed me most was the young lawyers who were clueless or struggling in the courtroom being reprimanded by the judge. In fact, every lawyer who doing litigation cases, who has not suffered dozens of knives stabs in the arena (being admonished by the judge in court). Of course, we can see these experiences as a training for growth.
In this article, the author will write about the culture/customs of the Malaysian legal industry and some misunderstandings about the legal industry in the society.
1. There is no barrister in Malaysia
The legal system in the UK and Hong Kong is divided into two categories: barrister and solicitor. Unlike them, the Malaysian legal industry is a fusion of both. It means that for professional and qualifications, a lawyer can serve as a barrister and a solicitor at the same time. Hence, in Malaysia, every lawyer is called Advocate & Solicitor.
Due to the fusion of the two, even Malaysian lawyers who are engaged in litigation usually do not call themselves barristers or big lawyers. In fact, this is prohibited. The Bar Council guidelines stipulate that the word “big” cannot appear in any letter or signboard of any law firm, so as not to cause any confusion.
2. During trial, the Malaysian lawyer does not wear a wig
Judicial wig, the symbol of law can also enhance the authority of lawyers. If there are readers who follow British or Hong Kong lawyers’ dramas, I believe they will see that judges or lawyers have to wear wigs in the courtroom when listening or presenting their cases. After putting on the wig, everyone immediately felt the solemn atmosphere of the court, and ignited the pursuit of law and justice. However, as time passes, this tradition and system have been gradually abandoned in other countries that have inherited the British judicial system.
The Malaysia judicial system is inherited from the United Kingdom. Therefore, the traditional is that judges and lawyers had to wear wigs on specific cases or occasions. But this tradition was abolished in the 1970s and 1980s. It was heard that the judge, Hashim Yeop Sani suddenly announced one day that wearing a judicial wig was not in line with Malaysian customs, so the judge did not need to wear a wig. From that day onwards, more and more judges and lawyers stopped wearing wigs. There are also rumors that because of the hot weather in Malaysia, wearing a wig would causes sweat and unpleasant smells.
I still remember that when the author, who was still a law student, knew about this, it made me feel like a bolt from the blue! Because wearing a wig is like a mark of the legal industry, an authority.
3. We used to have a jury system
Similarly, Malaysia used to have a jury system to review serious criminal cases, such as murder. The meaning behind the jury system is to allow lay person representing society to examine and evaluate whether the accused has committed a crime. The English language is ‘one to be tried by his peers’.
Before it was abolished in the 1990s, the jury in Malaysia usually consisted of seven people.
After the abolition of the jury system, all case analysis and verdicts are now decided by a single judge. Only in the case of appeals by the Court of Appeal or the Federal Court of our country or involving any constitutional issues, the court will have more than one judge to hear the case.
4. Usually only one lawyer can stand up and present his views at a time
In court proceedings, the entire procedure must be solemn, formal, and standardized. For example, we must address the judge “My Lord / Yang Arif” and address the opposition lawyer as “My Learned Friend / Rakan Saya yang Bijaksana”.
Perhaps some readers will be surprised that opposition lawyers are obviously on the opposite sides, so why do you have to call each other my learned friend (even if you think the other is not wise at all!). It must be understood that the meaning of the existence of the court is to allow the society to find the truth of the facts and to achieve justice. Hence, the whole process of this is actually to help judges clarify and achieve the facts of the case. Even if the both sides have two completely different positions, under the court system, both sides are known as the judges’ assistants to locate the truth of the case. As the saying goes, “the truth becomes clearer and clearer”.
Once you understand the meaning behind this, you won’t be wondering why both parties do not stand up and state their views at the same time. Generally, speaking with dignity and politeness in court is ethics of the legal system, for example when the other party wants to interrupt, the person speaking must stop and sit down and let the other party to stand up and make a statement. This shows his/her self-cultivation and tolerance. Be aware that a quarrel or a vicious look in the court will not add points to the judge’s verdict.
5. The lawyer’s robe is not required to be worn in every court trial
If readers come to court, you will find a very interesting phenomena that is the lawyers are all dressed in black and white. Unlike other industries, the black and white clothing of lawyers is like our weapon and symbol. As a result of this, if you do not wear black and white in court, the judges will not recognize you as a lawyer and may drive you out!
The black robe is only required to be worn in High court hearings and Court of Appeal or Federal Court. In addition, every Malaysian lawyer will have a robe that is worn at least once in his practice; that is when he is officially admitted as lawyer known as admission to the bar. Traditionally, a new born lawyer is to be robed by his/her master.
6. Each lawyer’s expertise is different
As mentioned before, since Malaysia does not distinguish between the professions of barristers and solicitors, every lawyer can basically practice in any area of laws. But in practice each and every lawyer will have his/her area of expertise. For example, some lawyers only deal in the field of sale and purchase dealings, or are only good at handling legal disputes between companies or shareholders.
Of course, the legal field is too broad and wide. So even if a lawyer is good at criminal cases, it is possible that the cases he/she takes are focused on drug cases, not murder or robbery for example.
7. The Language used in court
Although the Malaysian judicial system is inherited from the United Kingdom, due to the special circumstances in Malaysia, the use of the national language in the judicial system has been the practice of the courts. English would be more commonly used in the High Court, Court of Appeals and Federal Courts.
In any case, if it is a Sessions Court or Magistrate, usually judges will require lawyers to communicate in Bahasa Malaysia. If some senior lawyers want to communicate in English, he/she must ask or seek the judge permission to allow him/her to use English throughout the trial.
Of course, there will be no language restrictions when witnesses are testifying in court. If the witness does not understand English or Bahasa Malaysia, he/she can use the translation service provided by the court or hire other professionally qualified translators to participate in the entire trial process more effectively.
BY WINSON TAN
Note: This article is for reference only and does not constitute legal advice. Therefore, if readers have any legal questions or needs, they should seek professional legal advice. If the reader suffers any loss by relying on this article, the author will not be held responsible.