Stop sexual harassment in the legal fraternity!

Parti Sosialis Malaysia is deeply concerned with the latest case where a young lawyer has filed a sexual harassment case against her Master and the firm she chambered with in 2018 which was highlighted in Malaysiakini on 24.11.2021. This is really a matter of concern as there have been continuous complaints against lawyers mainly by chambering pupils and young lawyers on the issue of sexual harassment in the legal fraternity.

It is sad to see the state of affairs where the lawyers who are torch bearers of justice and fight for the rights of the Rakyat are condoning this kind of exploitation via their action and silence, where chambering pupils and young lawyers face sexual harassment at their workplace involving their Masters or Senior Lawyers.

It is also very concerning that despite the Bar Council adopting the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace at the 59th Annual General Meeting of the Malaysian Bar, which was held on 22 October 2005, no concrete action has been taken by the Bar to ensure that the members of the Bar provide a safe working environment free of Sexual Harassment. To date the Bar Council of Malaysia does not even have a proper mechanism to handle sexual harassment issues nor any support system for survivors to assist them to lodge complaints.

Pupils and young lawyers who enter the profession with lots of dreams are crushed when they become victims of sexual harassment which scars them for life. This should not be the case in a highly esteemed profession like the legal fraternity. It is the duty of the Bar Council to protect and provide support to the young lawyers to enable them to progress in this profession and contribute towards the betterment of the society and progress of the country’s legal system.

The issue of sexual harassment in Malaysia has always been seen as a small issue that is ignored. Despite years of campaigning and advocacy by NGOs and workers’ unions demanding a safe working environment that is free from sexual harassment , and the amendment in the Employment Act in 2012 this issue remains unsolved for the workers in all sectors including lawyers. Whereas the people in power (no matter which political alliance they belong to) continue to delay the tabling of the Sexual Harassment Act. If passed, this act would give protection to victims/ survivors and at the same time assist them to fight their cases against their perpetrators.

Thus, we in PSM urge the Bar Council of Malaysia to set a strong precedent in handling the issue of sexual harassment in the legal fraternity as it is embarrassing for the legal profession when complaints of sexual misconduct by members of the Bar is continuously highlighted with no solution in place. The Bar Council should not further delay and immediately push forward the amendment of the Legal Profession Act 1976, where sexual harassment is categorized as misconduct and the Code of Practice on the Prevention and Eradication of Sexual Harassment in the Workplace should be made part of the Bar Council Rules and Rulings. These two steps will enable the Bar to handle issues of sexual harassment effectively and survivors will be more empowered to lodge complaints with the confidence that the Bar Council will act on their complaints effectively.

Without having the right law and rulings in place, the Bar Council’s commitment against sexual harassment in the legal fraternity is just lip service similar to the government’s empty promises and lip service on the Sexual Harassment Act which is long overdue.

Kohila
Legal Bureau
Parti Sosialis Malaysia

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