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THE MALAYSIAN Bar Council is protesting strongly against a decision to allow foreign lawyers to practise there.
At present, foreign lawyers can only act as consultants in designated areas and offer their services in offshore matters.
New rights for foreign lawyers to follow enactments made 20 years ago under the Legal Profession Act 1976 only came into force on 1 February.
Bar Council president Cyrus Das is concerned home-grown lawyers will lose their jobs. He says: "At this time of economic downturn, lawyers are experiencing difficulties, and there have already been several cases of law firms scaling down operations and lawyers being subjected to a salary reduction or freeze."
The provision allows the Malaysian Attorney General to issue a special admission certificate to foreign lawyers - and Malaysians who have not been admitted to the Bar - so they can appear as advocates and solicitors in court.
Deputy minister Datuk Ibrahim Ali says the council should not make a big fuss over the matter because the special admission certificates issued to foreign lawyers are only valid for a specified period. "The Attorney General's reason for enacting these provisions is to enable large foreign corporations that have invested here to have their own lawyers to look after their interests."
Last week The Lawyer revealed that international law firm White & Case has closed its office in Jakarta. The office has been relocated because the Indonesian government does not allow foreign lawyers to practise there.