Sunday, March 11, 2007

‘Ensure there is transfer of expertise’(NST) - Has not the Bar Council compromised on its position?

‘Ensure there is transfer of expertise’

Saturday, 10 March 2007, 10:13am

Ragunath Kesavan©New Straits Times

KUALA LUMPUR: There will be no carte blanche for foreign lawyers under the liberalisation of the Malaysian legal sector.

Bar Council secretary Ragunath Kesavan said the scope of liberalisation would be limited to top-end international financing work where Malaysia was still lacking in expertise.

Possible areas for foreign lawyers would include asset securitisation, financial products for the financing of power and telecommunications projects, international capital market and structured financing.

"We are currently working with the Attorney-General’s Chambers to open up some areas under the liberalisation of the sector," he said yesterday.

Ragunath said the Bar Council had previously opposed the liberalisation of the legal sector, but had decided to take a different stand about two years ago.

He said the Bar Council was working closely with the International Trade and Industry Ministry (MITI) on the matter.

"We did not have a choice, as if we continued to oppose, decisions would be made for us by the government, without our input," he said.

Ragunath said the Bar Council was concerned about how liberalisation of the sector would affect local lawyers but had come to the conclusion that opening up certain fields would be mutually beneficial for both parties.

"We want to ensure that there is a transfer of expertise while protecting the rights of Malaysian lawyers."

Ragunath was commenting on the statement by MITI Minister Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz in Bangkok yesterday, that the Malaysian Bar was considering the potential to further liberalise the legal sector.

Ragunath said the council was actively participating in current Free Trade Agreement talks and giving input on legal liberalisation, as it had been invited by MITI to do so.

He added that Malaysia was already exporting its law services and Malaysian lawyers were capable of lending their expertise in fields such as Islamic banking and finance.

On the fear that Malaysia would be swamped by foreign lawyers, Ragunath said it had not happened in other countries such as Singapore which had been allowing foreign law firms to practice national law, albeit with certain conditions, since 2001.

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