by Valerie Choo Huae Ling on Monday, 13 April 2009 11:30am

Raymond Mah graduated from the University of Queensland, Australia in 2003 with a double degree in Economics and Law. He completed his CLP in 2004 and was admitted to the Bar in August 2005. He is a partner practising in a medium sized firm in Kuala Lumpur and is now in his fourth year of practice. His area of practice is primarily general civil litigation. Raymond who enjoys photography and the outdoors shared some of his thoughts with Valerie Choo on issues affecting professional practice and the administration of justice.

Did your father have a profound influence on you choosing law as a career?

He did, although he did not do it consciously. My dad’s legal practice in some ways became a part of our family life. As a boy, I would always listen with fascination when my dad told us about his more interesting cases. Having said that, my dad advised me against practising law, saying it was a hard life. I didn’t take his advice, and now I know.

Would you turn your hobby into a career if the situation permits? Would it be more satisfying to take up photography fulltime rather than a career as a lawyer?

Photography is my passion. It is a passion that has driven me to wake up before dawn in freezing temperatures to capture a sunrise and to scale mountains with heavy equipment just for a different point of view. And when I’m at home, I take photos of my little niece and nephew. Yet, I feel that having to take photographs for the money would take some of the fun out of it. After all, I do enjoy my practice too.

As an employer and a partner in your firm, how do you think the working conditions of young lawyers could be improved?

Young lawyers can always do with more pay. Actually, all lawyers can do with more pay. Recognition and appreciation of the work that young lawyers do is also important, as the steep learning curve can be tough. As a firm, we try to give our lawyers sufficient working space, adequate support staff, as well as the opportunity to participate in continuing legal education programs.

There is an increase in the influx of young lawyers in our society. For certain, the legal scene will be more competitive. In your opinion, how do you think one can be outstanding in a crowded profession? 

Every profession is a competitive profession. I don’t think law is any different – to be outstanding, one must excel in his or her chosen field of law. This takes initiative and hard work. The willingness to take on responsibility and to do more than what is asked is quickly recognised and eventually rewarded.

Young lawyers play an important role in our legal profession today. However, as of late, much has been said about the general decline in the quality of lawyers entering the profession. What is your say on this?

I have heard many senior lawyers lament about such a decline. However, I think that the problem may be more of a language difficulty, particularly with the English language. This disparity is heightened by the fact that a majority of today’s senior lawyers and judges were educated almost exclusively in English. Language is our tool and we can all benefit from improving both our English and Bahasa Malaysia.

Do you think young lawyers are subjected to less favourable treatment from court staff, judges and senior peers while carrying out their job compared to senior lawyers? After all, it has been said that it would be suicidal to send a young practitioner to conduct a case before the Court of Appeal or Federal Court.

There is some truth to this. This is the reality of human nature, the reality of life. Young lawyers ought to understand that it is not personal. It takes time to acquire the necessary experience to do what senior lawyers do. It takes time to establish our own reputation, credibility and standing.

As one proverb says: One will never grow up without having overcome obstacles. What do you think is most challenging about your profession, and how did you manage through difficult times?

I find managing the workload most challenging. I make it through late nights and stressful mornings by keeping positive. Putting aside time for loved ones and friends helps keep things in perspective when work gets out of hand.

Tell us one of your most memorable experiences in practice.

The case was a complicated petition for an adoption. It was very meaningful when the parents thanked me for enabling them to keep their child. What was even more significant was when the mother told me that the child had said that he wanted to become a lawyer, like me, to help people.

Moving on to current issues happening in our country. The controversial issue on invasion of privacy has once again become the subject of debate in Malaysian politics. Much has already been written about the cases of politicians like Chua Soi Lek and Elizabeth Wong. Hence, it is essential that we, as Malaysians come to understand and accept the fact that living in a constitutional democratic country demands respect of private space and private lives of all citizens. Many are of the view that now is the time to defend the principle of individual privacy at all cost. Having said that, in your opinion, are privacy laws lacking in Malaysia? Why?

In 2007, Malaysia ranked the worst out of some 48 countries for privacy protection and enforcement and was described by Privacy International as an “endemic surveillance society”. I don’t think much has changed in the last 2 years. Modern recording technology has made the need for privacy protection laws all the more urgent. We don’t see the government leaping to our protection as often they are the violators of our privacy.

Since the resignation of the Behrang, Changkat Jering and Jelapang assemblypersons who left their respective parties to become independent assemblypersons “friendly” to Barisan Nasional, there have been renewed calls for anti-hopping laws in Malaysia. Would it be the once and for all solution to avoid crossovers? Some view that anti-hopping laws are immoral and unconstitutional because they violate the principle of freedom of association. What do you have to say about this? 

Anti-hopping laws preserve democracy, I feel. This is especially where elected representatives campaign under the banner of a particular party. If that person later decided to be associated with another party, he or she should be required by law to resign and face the electorate in a by-election. I don’t see anything immoral or unconstitutional about holding our elected representatives to their manifestos.

The death of 22-year old detainee A. Kugan raised alarming questions about the treatment of detainees in police custody and the methods of interrogation used. Such a tragedy brings to fore, once again, the dire need for an Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission, to function as an independent, impartial, transparent and external oversight body to investigate complaints about police personnel and to make the police accountable for their conduct. What is your view on that?

It is an unfortunate state of affairs when we need ordinary citizens to police our police. As the police have proven themselves incapable of monitoring and disciplining their own, I think that an Independent Police Commission and Misconduct Commission can only help to raise the standard of our police force.

Following reports of detainees being tortured and manhandled in extremity, allegedly resulting in custodial death, the police had recently initiated a plan that all interrogation rooms at district police headquarters nationwide will be installed with close-circuit TV cameras (CCTV) over the next five years to monitor and record the questioning of detainees. What do you have to say about the proposal?

While this proposal to have CCTVs in interrogation rooms may sound very progressive, it hardly guarantees to solve the problem. Police brutality is certainly not confined to the interrogation room. And we are very familiar with the government installing hi-tech equipment that nobody knows how to use – the LCD monitors in the courts are a good example. I feel that such an initiative would have little value, especially since section 113 CPC statements are no longer admissible in evidence. It would only serve to give us a false sense of security and divert focus from the institutional change necessary to take the police force into the 21st century.

Access to justice is meaningless if people do not know their rights. With that in mind, the Bar Council re-launched the Redbook Pamphlet on 16 February 2009. In light of the recent events involving the excessive use of police powers, it is high time that the public, the man on the street, are educated of their rights when encountering the police. What is your comment on the dissemination of the Redbook?

The questions I get from clients and even some lawyers tell me that most are not aware of their rights when faced with the possibility of an arrest. I think the Redbook Pamphlet serves its purpose in informing the public of their rights. All that needs to be done now is to have the Redbook Pamphlet reach the hands of the man on the street. I got my copy of the Redbook Pamphlet from the Bar Council website.

A forum entitled ‘Persons With Disabilities Act 2008: What Next?’ was organised by the Bar Council recently. The forum was aimed at educating the disabled, their families, care-givers and members of the public on the legal rights of the disabled enshrined in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008. In your opinion, do you think there are shortcomings in the Act and what measures can be taken to improve them and to address the needs of disabled persons? 

The Persons With Disabilities Act 2008 is a starting point. The absence of sanctions for non-compliance makes conformity with the Act more aspirational than mandatory. As Dato’ Ambiga pointed out, the Federal Government is expressly exempted from any wrong-doing under the Act even if it fails to address the needs of disabled persons. This exemption is unfortunate and in some ways makes the Act self-defeating. We can help by supporting NGOs in their campaigns for betterment, as well as by not parking in the bays reserved for the disabled.

In view of all these current events, what are your general comments on the state of our nation today?

I think there’s a lot of room for improvement and that this responsibility lies on both the Government and us citizens. I believe that every individual can make a difference and that every difference counts, from showing good manners to championing new legislation. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” And we will have a better tomorrow.

Source: The Malaysian Bar website