A SHORT HISTORY OF THE JOHORE BAR
The Johore Bar Committee (“JBC”) is a creature of statute. The first Johore Bar Committee was created pursuant to Section 39 (2) of the Advocates & Solicitors Ordinance 1947 (“the Ordinance”). Prior to the Ordinance there was the F.M.S Enactment No.1 of 1940 known as The Advocates and Solicitors Enactment of Federated Malay States which was repealed by the Ordinance. In the State of Johore we also had Johor (Cap.104) which was The Advocates and Solicitors Enactment of Johor and for Straits Settlement we had the Advocates and Solicitors Ordinance of the Straits Settlement. Before these enactments Advocates and Solicitors who were at all times recognized by the courts as officers of the Court, and were controlled by the provisions contained by the Rules of the Supreme Court which bestowed powers of admission control and discipline of lawyers in the hands of the judges of the High Court or the Supreme Courts.
This Ordinance was promulgated on the 14th February 1947 and in the preamble it was stated that this is “an Ordinance to amend the law with respect to Advocates & Solicitors. “By Section 3 it empowered the Registrar of the High Court in Kuala Lumpur to keep a roll of Advocates and Solicitors which shall include the date of the respective admission and enrolment of each of them and shall be entered and kept in the order of such dates”. (S.3 of the Ordinance). The Ordinance stipulated that “every advocate and solicitor shall be subject to the control of the Court and shall be liable on due cause shown to have his admission revoked and to be struck off the roll of the Court or to be suspended from practice for any period not exceeding two years or to be censured”. (S.26(1) of the Ordinance).
The Ordinance empowered any State in the States of Malaya to form a local Bar Committee if the number of practitioners in the State Bar exceeded 10 in number. In the event the numbers were less than 10 then 2 or more States could combine together and form a combined Bar Committee, as was once the case of Perak, Kedah, Perlis Bar Committee and Kelantan, Terengganu and Pahang Bar Committee.
Unlike the present Legal Profession Act 1976 (“the LPA”) where an Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board was created the powers of discipline of members of the bar under the ordinance was with a Disciplinary Committee appointed by the Chief Justice on the recommendation of the local Bar committee. The power of investigating and adjudicating into and of the conduct of members of the Bar presently is not vested in the Bar Committees as The LPA has vested the same on the Advocates and Solicitors Disciplinary Board which is supposed to be a body independent of the Bar Council. The Bar is an independent body and a self-disciplining one so we proudly proclaim.
The local Bar Committee had powers after hearing and investigating any complaint lodged against any member of the Johore Bar to invite the Chief Justice to appoint a Disciplinary Committee comprising senior members of the Bar to show cause why his admission should not be revoked and he be struck off of Rolls or be suspended from practice for any period not exceeding 2 years or to be censured.
Under the Ordinance, the complaint in the first instance was made to the local Bar Committee and hence the Bar Committee’s work then was inundated with a huge number of complaints and the Committee had to hear and investigate the same before inviting the Chief Justice to constitute Disciplinary Committees comprising senior members of Bar for a formal hearing and investigation.
A little history. In the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s, by reason of Johore’s close proximity to Singapore a vast number of practitioners in Johor Bahru and the outlying districts of Johore were from Singapore who maintained offices both in Singapore and Johore. They were in common parlance referred to as “Sunday lawyers” or “weekend lawyers” by Johoreans. Johore Courts were opened on Saturdays and Sundays then but Singapore Courts had their weekends and so the Singapore lawyers fished in Johore’s legal waters.
Senior members of the Johore Bar and those in the December of their careers will recollect the names of R.Murugason, his brother R Ramason, Omar Salleh, Sim Teow Geok, T.T.Rajah, S K Lee, Peter Williams and others from the Singapore Bar dominating the local legal scene in those years.
It is perhaps of the large influx of Singapore lawyers to Johore then that S.39 (2) (second limb) of the Ordinance to constitute a Bar Committee was drafted to read as follows: “Provided that, as regards the State of Johore, each practitioner who was a member of the Johore Bar on the 8th day of December, 1941, shall be deemed to be practising in the State of Johore whether or not he or any of his partners maintains an office in that State.”
The Chairmen of the Johore Bar Committee and its members in the 50s, 60s and 70s were Singapore lawyers. They appeared to be the “city boys” and controlled us rustics. A curious decision was made by a “Singapore Chairman” of the Johore Bar Committee one John Pillai on 26-01-1969 at the Annual General Meeting of the Johore Bar. The decision was that Legal Assistants were not practitioners falling within the ambit of the Ordinance and as such were not allowed the right to vote at the Bar AGM to elect their own Bar Committee which governs their affairs at the Bar. The then Chairman of Johore Bar Committee ruled that only proprietors of legal firms who practised and maintained offices in Johore could vote at the AGM.
Now Legal Assistants employed by various legal firms in Johore were perturbed and furious over the decision of the Chairman which they thought was perverse and untenable. They (Devika Rani Selvadurai, Upali Masacorale, HL Tennakoon and Hendon Mohamed) challenged the said ruling in the Johore Bahru High Court. Justice Dato Syed Othman (as he then was) in his judgement (1970 (2) MLJ 21) ruled that a Legal Assistants were indeed practitioners and were entitled to attend and vote at the Bar AGMs.
As noted earlier, the Johore Bar was dominated by Singaporeans. The Chairman in 1966-67 was Tan Sri Syed Esa Almenoar. In 1968/69 it was R Ramason then and John Pillai and only from the 1970’s Malaysians took over and ran the Johore Bar Committee. The thorn in the flesh of the members of the Johore Bar in the 70’s was the domination of the Johore Bar by the Singaporeans who opened offices in Johor Bahru and at the various districts and these offices were mainly manned by solicitors clerks as the Singapore lawyers would only attend office on Saturdays and Sundays as it was their weekend in Singapore.
The late Abdullah A Rahman took over the reins as the Chairman of the Johore Bar in 1970. He held on to it for more than a decade as he was held in high esteem by fellow members of the Bar. He were on to become the first member of the Johore Bar to become the President of the Malaysian Bar (1978-1980).
Abdullah B Dato Abd Rahman had the distinction of being the 1st member of Johore Bar
to lead the Malaysian Bar. (1978 – 1980)
Johore Bar Committee 1979/80
From left: U.Masacorale, P K Yang, Abdullah A Rahman (Chairman),
S.Balarajah, Azzat Kamaluddin (Secretary) & W.D.Moses.
Abdullah A Rahman a brother of the then Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia Tun Dr Ismail A. Rahman lobbied for amendment to the Ordinance to curtail the foreign dominance of the Johore Bar. In 1970 an amendment was passed by Malaysian Parliament whereby section 5(1) of the Ordinance was duly enacted which permits only permanent residents of Malaysia or Malaysian citizens to be admitted to the Bar and carry on practice in Malaysia and maintain offices in Malaysia. By reason of the aforesaid legislative amendment many Singapore law firms in Johore changed hands and Malaysians took over.
The Johore Bar Committee continues to have a most cordial relationship with the Bench. Mr Justice Ali Hassan who took over from the then resident Judge in Johore Mr Justice Azmi bin Mohamad in 1966 inaugurated the Johore Bench and Bar vs Johore Police Cricket Tournament in 1968. He donated the “Ali Hassan Trophy”. These tripartite games were led by Justice Ali Hassan on behalf of the Bench, Abdullah A Rahman on behalf of the Bar and Asst Commissioner of Police XA Nicholas led the Police Team. A young D.P.P Kadir Kassim assisted Justice Ali Hassan in co-coordinating the games. Kadir is now an eminent and senior member of the Bar in KL of the firm Kadir, Andri & Partners. This tournament is religiously carried out even to the present day and promotes camaraderie amongst Bench, Bar and Police. The sole aim if the late sporting or rather English Judge and Asst Commissioner X.A Nicholas (with his ever present pipe and Jaguar) was to enhance camaraderie amongst the 3 branches of the law.
The LPA, 1976 diluted the powers of the State Bar Committee. It became a statutory body to look after the welfare of members and to promote and safeguard their interest. It became a liaison committee and a committee authorised to levy subscriptions from members. The Bar Committee is empowered to entertain, deal with matters referred to it by the Bar Council and provide amenities for its members. This is a drastic dilution of powers as compared to the Ordinance.
After Abdullah A Rahman ceased to be Chairman of the Johore Bar the Chair was taken over by Upali Masacorale, Arthur Lee, S Balarajah, W.D.Moses, S Sagadeva, Tuan Hj Kuthubul Zaman, P K Nathan, R A Kumar, S Gunasegaran, Gana Muthusamy, E Ramasamy of the Muar Bar, Raymond David a.k.a Dato Abdul Rahman Abdullah of the Batu Pahat Bar, K.Mohan and in (2010) we had an octogenarian Pakrisamy Suppiah (called to the bar in 1961) as Chairman but by a Motion passed at an Extraordinary General Meeting holden in the 26th day of November 2010, Suppiah and his Committee and the Honorary Secretary were all removed from office. After a vote of no confidence was passed a new Bar Committee and nine man Committee were elected to run the Johore Bar till the next AGM on 25-02-2011.
The Johore Bar has seen tremendous growth in numbers and is now the 3rd largest Bar in the country with 1,796 members on its list as of 31st December 2014. The great surge in numbers from all manner of background and class may be said to be a fairly new phenomena but this itself may have great potentials. The organized Bar cannot ignore this signification for the future of the profession. The sudden surge in numbers of the middle class the world over is a factor that has to be reckoned with and the profile of the Bar has certainly changed.
The Johore Bar is gratified to have had 2 of its members at the helm of the Malaysian Bar in recent times – Hj Kuthubul Zaman Bin Bukhari (now Datuk) as President of the Malaysian Bar (2003-2005) and Yeo Yang Poh (now Datuk) as its Vice-President (2003/2004). Yeo governed the Malaysian Bar from 2005-2007.
The Johore Bar also cherishes the fact that the 1st lady President of the Malaysian Bar was the reticent Puan Hendon Bte Mohamad who herself is a prodigy of the Johore Bar. It gratifies members that Hendon has the massive popular support of the Malaysian Bar even to this day. When ballots are cast for postal elections for the Malaysian Bar and the votes are counted in October each year, she always emerges in the top 3 of the chosen ones! That is the magic, power and pull of the lady who has her roots firmly in the Johore and who may appear reticent and coy but is steadfast in her stand and support if you walk the right path.
Mr S Theivanthiran, now of the Perak Bar who derived his birth in Johore Bahru and infant nurture at the Bar in Johore (having been the prodigy of the late leader of the Johor Criminal Bar, Mr Mohamed Elyas Majeed) went on to become the Chairman of the Perak Bar 1984/85 and the President of the Bar Malaysia in its turbulent years 1989/90 after Salleh Abbas episode.
At the 50th Annual General Meeting of the Johore Bar held on 21st February 2020, at the Holiday Villa Hotel, Johor Bahru, the house voted in Pn. Shahareen Begum binti Abdul Subhan as the Chairman; a historic move as she would be the first female chair in their 50 year history. This historic move was made sweeter when the house voted Ms. Santhi Balachandran as the Johore Bar Representative to the Malaysian Bar. This would be the first time that the top two posts in the Committee are held by women. Pn Shahareen and Ms Santhi have served on the Johore Bar Committee for many years prior and are happy now to be able to serve from a larger and higher platform.
The members of the Johore Bar heretofore mentioned have all done Johore in general and the Johore Bar in particular proud. And we are proud of them all and hold them in high estimation. They seem to have paid heed to what Whitney Seymour said in the 1968 Benjamin Cardozo lecture, “The Lawyer is not just a journey man, devoted to his own interests but he has a duty to his profession which includes his duty to contribute at least some of his talents to the public good through the organized Bar.” These members have all become as Francis Bacon said in the 14th Century, dedicated to their calling respectable in life and an ornament to the society of which they have become members. Such praiseworthy and exemplary conduct ought to be emulated by all if at all possible and the enthusiasm be passed on from generation to generation for the good of the Bar. So may it be!