Saturday, January 18, 2014

‘NCR cases a growing concern’

by Karen Bong, Posted on January 18, 2014, Saturday

Members of the legal fraternity march from Hotel Pullman to the Old Court building to mark the opening of the new legal year.
Rising number of cases filed each year is posing the toughest challenge to Sabah, Sarawak courts — CJ

KUCHING: The toughest challenge facing the courts in Sabah and Sarawak at the moment is the disposal of Native Customary Rights (NCR) land cases.

Chief Judge of the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Datuk Seri Panglima Richard Malanjum said yesterday that the number of NCR cases had been increasing every year.

“There is now a floating idea for the setting up of a dedicated court to deal with these cases.
“But then again, there is no reason to set up the facility if only a few lawyers are handling NCR cases. This is the main problem.”

In any case, he stressed, this issue must be promptly addressed, and suggested that more talks on NCR and related issues be organised to gain more knowledge and information to better understand NCR cases.

Justice Richard Malanjum said this during a special court session that was held in conjunction with the Opening of the Legal Year 2014 held here yesterday.

A traditional procession, comprising members of the legal fraternity and judiciary including judges, judicial officers, lawyers and guests, was held to mark the occasion.

They all marched from Pullman Hotel to the Old Court building at Jalan Old Court House.
Leading the way were Chief Justice of Malaysia Tun Datuk Seri Arifin Zakaria, Court of Appeal president Tan Sri Datuk Seri Mohd Raus Sharif, High Court of Malaya Chief Judge Tan Sri Datuk Seri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin, Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nancy Shukri and Kuching North City Commission Datuk Bandar Datuk Abang Abdul Wahap Abang Julai.

After this annual ritual, the special court proceeding was held inside the courtroom to report on significant improvements made in the previous legal year as well as to raise issues and concerns facing today’s legal community.

On another matter, Justice Richard Malanjum reaffirmed his commitment to uphold justice without fear or favour and to improve the justice delivery system.

“The primary duty of the judiciary is to dispense justice as entrusted upon us. Justice cannot be achieved if it takes too long or too expensive for the people.

“So, I hope, it is more than sufficient to raise any doubt on the punctuality of the judiciary when it comes to dealing with people and sensitive issues.”

He reminded that in matters of conscience, the law of majority has no place.

On the status of case either pending or disposed by the High Court of Sabah and Sarawak last year, Justice Richard Malanjum reported that the High Court had disposed 7,144 cases out of some 9,000 pending cases.

For criminal case, he pointed out that some 600 cases out of 907 pending cases were disposed of.

“As for the Sessions Court, 5,819 cases had been disposed out of 7,236 civil cases while some 8,000 out of 8,296 criminal cases were disposed of.”

In the Magistrate’s Court, he revealed that a total of 18,418 out of 22,468 civil cases had been disposed while for criminal cases, a total of 29,740 out of 36,794 had been disposed of.
He praised the unwavering cooperation and hard work of all sides for achieving the excellent performance.

“However, there is a lot more room for improvement despite
the impressive performance.”

In commending and supporting the various programmes to be carried out for the judiciary this year, Justice Richard Malanjum urged judges from Sabah and Sarawak to work on
improving the skill of good judgment writing.

He also urged all staff, including judges in both Sabah and Sarawak, to cut down on the use of papers, electricity and other utilities, especially when the courts are not in session, to reduce wastage of resources.

Meanwhile, Abdul Gani, during the proceeding, touched on the issue of access to justice and the coverage of the Yayasan Bantuan Guaman Kebangsaan (YBGK).

“The incursion and armed attacks in Lahad Datu, Sabah, brought the issue of Sabah’s security and sovereignty as a partner state in Malaysia to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness.

“It also emphasised on the issue of access to justice as guaranteed by Article 8 of the Federal Constitution to all persons, though they be categorised as ‘enemy aliens’.”

In this regard, Abdul Gani said although the Attorney General’s Chambers bears the role of public prosecutor, it had also made every effort to ensure that all the accused charged for the Lahad Datu incursion and armed attacks had adequate legal representation.

“Where assistance is not provided through the Embassy of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines, legal representation has been arranged through the good office of the YBGK and other avenues.”

In addition, for the people of Sabah and Sarawak, he pointed out that access to justice was not limited to criminal prosecution and civil litigation.

In this regard, Abdul Gani stressed that the slow uptake of lawyers in Sabah and Sarawak in the YBGK was viewed with some concern.

A review of the available statistics, bearing in mind the population of the respective states, showed that there were currently 1,075 YBGK panel lawyers throughout Malaysia who were actively contributing to operationalising the YBGK.

“Out of this figure, we have 225 panel lawyers from Kuala Lumpur, 166 in Selangor followed by 106 in Johore and 103 in Terengganu respectively.

“At the other end, we have Sarawak with 42 panel lawyers (in Kuching, Miri, Sibu and Bintulu) and Sabah with 11. The lowest number is 6 for Perlis.”

The 42 panel lawyers in Sarawak, he said, handled 505 arrest cases, 57 remand hearings, and four trials/hearings.

Meanwhile, the 11 panel lawyers in Sabah handled 122 arrest cases and 13 remand hearings.

“This is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the number of civil and criminal cases being handled by the courts in Sabah and Sarawak as announced in Putrajaya by the Honourable Chief Justice of the Federal Court.”

As YBGK chairman, he said it was incumbent to understand the concerns of the lawyers that were hindering their participation in the YBGK programme so that they might be appropriately addressed.

Abdul Gani thus proposed, after having held meetings with the executive committee recently, to promote the YGBK, including organising campaigns to attract more lawyers in Sabah and Sarawak to get on board.

He also suggested a ‘soft launch’ of the YBGK to raise its profile and increase the awareness of the general public of the availability of this avenue of legal assistance.
“A third proposal is to enlist the involvement of former officers of the Judicial and Legal Service in the YBGK panel of lawyers.”

He hoped to receive responses and further valuable insights and suggestions from both presidents of Sabah Law Association and the Advocates Association of Sarawak at the next meeting of the YGBK Board members.

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