Rule of Law

The “Rule of Law” is, of course, something all lawyers seek to uphold. However, what constitutes “Rule of Law” varies a little from jurisdiction to jurisdiction and person to person. One explanation is as follows:-

“In today’s world, obedience to the Rule of Law is not just right in itself; it is an important part of creating a successful country. In today’s world, it is a vital component of economic success. In today’s world, it is integral to a well-functioning society. …
To me, it means the following. It means an independent judiciary, one that is independent of government and not dependent on it or subservient to it. Unless the public accepts that the judiciary are independent, they will have no confidence in the honesty and fairness of the decisions of the courts. This independence is exemplified in the judicial oath.”
Tony Blair – “Upholding the Rule of Law – A Reflection

Symposium on “Constitutional Law: Rule of Law in Jeopardy?

I recently had the privilege of being invited to attend, as a guest of the Malaysia and Bar Association, its Symposium on “Constitutional Law: Rule of Law in Jeopardy?”. It was held in the Malaysian Bar Association’s new conference venue Kuala Lumpur on the 10th and 11th of January 2017.

The Symposium was held with the support of the Commonwealth Lawyers Association – which ran some of the sessions.

Over two days over 30 jurists from over 7 countries addressed those attending.

The diversity of situations confronted by lawyers in context of threats to the rule of law in their various jurisdictions is, to me, always striking.
Starting with a Keynote speech by Dato Dr Cyrus Das “The Role of the Rule of Law in a Democracy” topics ranged from and included: –
• MBA The Evolution of the Federal Constitution of Malaysia: In Hindsight
• CLA Session: The Role and Responsibility of an Independent Judiciary in Democracy
• CLA Session: Advocating for the Abolition of the Death Penalty
• MBA The Malaysian Bar: “Meddling” with Democracy
• CLA Session: Independence of the Bar | Best Practices and International Standards
• MBA The Malaysia Agreement
• CLA Session: Access to Justice
• MBA Free and Fair General Elections: Fiction or Fact?
• MBA Special Address: The Rohingya Refugee Crisis

Discussions involving speakers and members of the audience clearly demonstrated some of the difficulties encountered by lawyers in a range of jurisdictions. too often lawyers are not able to serve the legal services needs of their community, as well as they would wish to do.


    The relative, compared to the Australian Constitution, ease with which the Malaysian Constitution can be changed was something of an eye opener. The session reinforced, in my mind, the wisdom behind and the need for Constitutional change to be “by the people” in referendum, not simply a Parliament with a certain percentage vote required.

    Speakers from Hong Kong outlined some of the tensions emerging there with the “One Country, Two Systems“ policy as things there develop. hong Kong is still less than half way along the 50 year protection of Hong Kong’s economic and political system.

    For an Australian lawyer, like me, the arguments put for and against in the topic “Advocating for the Abolition of the Death Penalty” seemed somewhat alien and hard to understand, but speakers for and against argued their cases strongly.

    The topic “The Malaysian Bar: “Meddling” with Democracy” resonated, as both Law Council of Australia and NSW Law Society regularly put views to Government and publicly where they perceive problems with Government action.

    The session “The Rohingya Refugee Crisis” gave examples of what has been and is occurring in respect of the crisis and queried whether some of the action taken does not warrant prosecution as a war crime or crime against humanity.

    The “Free and Fair General Elections: Fiction or Fact?” session was from a Malaysian perspective. It dealt with the not uncommon issue arising from redistribution of electoral boundaries. The main speaker, who was detained by the Malaysian authorities in 2016 in connection with political issues [an event which “troubled” the USA’s State Department] is a believer in the will of the people and exhorts all eligible voters to exercise their right vote.

    Wherever we are, whatever we do, lawyers have to be wary of anything which adversely impacts on the Rule of Law.