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SLS President, Sabah AG should be made members of LPQB

Chan Foong Hin

30 October 2021

First and foremost I would like to congratulate the Sabah Law Society (SLS) for successfully bringing to the federal Parliament a bill to amend the Sabah Advocates Ordinance last Thursday, 28 October.

Unlike the Sarawak Advocates Ordinance, the Sabah Advocates Ordinance provides for a statutory body known as the Sabah Law Society that has been given power since 2017 to regulate its own members (i.e. Sabah practising lawyers), including matters regarding enforcement of discipline. As the amendments were proposed by SLS themselves, I had no qualms with any of them.

Nevertheless, I had during the second reading of the said bill (policy stage) participated in the debate and had raised several issues which are of public interest, namely regarding the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) which is recognized for admission to practice as an advocate & solicitor in Sabah.

The CLP is issued by the Legal Profession Qualification Board (LPQB), but the LPQB is not a body formed under the Sabah Advocates Ordinance - it is formed under the Legal Profession Act 1976 (LPA) which is applicable only in Peninsula Malaysia.

I had in my debate raised the fact that there are no representatives from SLS and Sabah State Attorney General in the LPQB. This is a very odd thing, in my opinion, especially when many from Sabah actually rely on the CLP examination as a pathway into the legal profession in Sabah, especially those who do not have the opportunity to enrol into local universities.

I had questioned whether the government intend to amend the LPA to recognize the SLS established under the Sabah Advocates Ordinance by including the SLS Chairman as a member of the LPQB and to also include the Sabah State Attorney General in the LPQB committee. The Law Minister, Wan Junaidi, in his winding up speech, merely stated that an amendment to the LPA is in the pipeline but gave no commitment to my question.

Next, I had also in my debate raised the question of CLP being replaced with the Common Bar Course (CBC) as recently there was a complaint that the CLP system was allegedly unfair as it gave an unjustified advantage to local university law degree graduates over those who graduated with foreign law degree. Local university graduates need not sit for the CLP whereas those with degrees from UK, Australia and New Zealand were made to sit for the CLP before they could start their chambering to be admitted.

Former Law Minister the late Liew Vui Keong in 2019 stated that the government would set up a committee to study the possibility of replacing the CLP examination with a Common Bar Course (CBC) to be taken by all law graduates including from local public institutions of higher learning. This CBC proposal is not new and has been raised since the era of the previous Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim.

I have then asked the minister what is the status of this CBC proposal, but I was disappointed when the minister merely stated that the proposal to replace CLP with CBC requires a detailed study, including engagement sessions with all parties.

The worst thing about the CLP is that there is a four-time limit to take the CLP exam, with a very low passing rate of about 15% to 20% in each sitting. Let’s say 10 person takes the exam, only about 2 passes it. I am also told that no first class honours were ever awarded for the CLP exam.

The minister gave a disappointing answer, firstly by justifying the existing arrangement (to have foreign law degree holders sit for CLP) by stating that foreign law degree holders were not allowed to practice in Malaysia in the first place and that the CLP was started in 1978 as an “enabler” by teaching them local laws. I do not buy this argument as there is nothing on Sabah laws in the CLP syllabus such as the Sabah Land Ordinance, Sabah Advocates Ordinance, Housing Development (Control and Licensing) Enactment 1978, Land (Subsidiary Title) Enactment 1972, Probate And Administration Ordinance 1947, Wills Ordinance, etc. Not only the CLP does not equip Sabah bound law students to practice in Sabah, it also makes their process to become a lawyer in Sabah more difficult with the low passing rate. Why make Sabah law students’ life so difficult?



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