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SUNSHINE LAWS MUST BE PASSED TO SHOW THE GOVERNMENT IS TRULY OPEN AND TRANSPARENT: SLS

Oleh Chris Maskilone

KOTA KINABALU: The Sabah Law Society (SLS) has proposed for the Official Secrets Act to either be repealed or amended to ensure it protects only genuine national security information from the public.

SLS President Brenndon Keith Soh said it was necessary to pass sunshine laws in order to be a truly open, transparent and accountable government.

Brenndon Keith Soh. SNT File Pix

Speaking at the Opening of the Legal Year 2019 at the Kota Kinabalu Court Complex, he said this was a follow through to his earlier call for the Institutional Reforms Committee report to be made public.

In this respect, he said Sabah Law Society also recommended that a Freedom of Information Act and Enactment at the Federal and State level, respectively should be considered necessary.

“This is premised on the basis that a government elected by the people is mandated and empowered to make decisions for the people.

“There is thus a corresponding fundamental right to know how and what decisions are made by the government pursuant to that mandate.

“The right to information is a necessary counterweight to government secrecy and is vital to protect the public from potential overreach, wastage and abuse,” he said.

According to him, a freedom of information legislation would make it a requirement for the government to provide information and documents upon request and enable journalists, the media, advocates and the public to shine light on government actions “carried out in our name, but otherwise without our knowledge.”

FORMULATE AN OPEN MEETING ACT AND ENACTMENT

Brenndon said SLS also called for an Open Meeting Act and Enactment at the Federal and State level, respectively.

“The purpose of an open meeting law is to ensure transparency in the deliberations on which public policy is based.

“A democratic process depends on the public having knowledge about the considerations underlying governmental action and such a law requires, with some justifiable exceptions, that meetings of public bodies be open to the public.

“It also seeks to balance the public’s interest in witnessing the deliberations of public officials with the government’s need to manage its operations efficiently.

“Such a law would also require that an adequate notice of such meetings be publicly displayed, and that the minutes of meetings be recorded and made available to the public,” he said.

EQUAL TREATMENT FOR ADVOCATES OF SABAH AND SARAWAK WHO DO NOT POSSESS CLP

Meanwhile, Brenndon also hoped the restriction that may deny suitable advocates from both Sabah and Sarawak who do not have the Certificate in Legal Practice (CLP) from joining the Judicial and Legal Service Commission will be addressed.

“I trust this anomaly will be reconciled in due course so as to enable equal treatment for the advocates of the Borneo States who do not possess the CLP,” he said.

The irony is that advocates from Sabah and Sarawak without the CLP are qualified to be appointed to the superior courts as judges after being in practice for ten years, he said.

“The practical solution is an administrative recognition of an advocate admitted to the Sabah or Sarawak Bar as satisfying the requisite qualifications to be eligible to join the Judicial and Legal Service Commission,” he said.

BENCH BAR PRESS ASSOCIATION

In line with the Chief Justice’s suggestion last week that a media centre be created to ensure accuracy of reporting by the press, the Sabah Law Society is proposing for the formation of a Bench Bar Press Association.

Brenndon said such a body or committee would promote communication between all stakeholders towards preserving both the right to a fair trial and the freedom to disseminate the news.

“Common ground and understanding can be found by responsible members of the legal and journalistic professions to encourage fair and accurate reporting.

“In an effort to mitigate potential conflict, a statement of principles could be deliberated and agreed upon so as to enable the media to keep the public fully informed without violating the rights of any individual adult or child.

“This body would also serve to facilitate and encourage the public and the media to learn about the judicial system,” he said. -SabahNewsToday