The Malaysian Legal System – Practice at the Bar and Life as a Judge: An Inside Story

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The Faculty of Law and Government of HELP University has always prided itself on its success in grooming employable lawyers and on its strong connections to the law fraternity. The Faculty seeks to imbue law training into their students and does so by exposing them to the various facets of legal practice from the moment they begin their law studies. To this effort, the Faculty frequently conducts Professional Development Courses and Guest Lectures which feature senior members of the legal profession giving lectures on topical areas of the law that will enhance students’ knowledge.

One such esteemed guest is Dato’ Mah Weng Kwai, a consultant at MahWengKwai and Associates who has a long and illustrious legal career spanning 46 years. Recently, he presented a talk to HELP’s first year UKDTP law students titled ‘The Malaysian Legal System – Practice at the Bar and Life as a Judge: An Inside Story’ in which he spoke at length about the Malaysian Legal System and shared his own personal experience and anecdotes in the legal profession.

In his talk, Dato’ Mah first introduced the Malaysian Court System and the hierarchy of the courts. He provided the students with a rundown of the five types of courts that are available in Malaysia: Federal Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, Sessions Court and the Magistrates’ Court.

In order to elucidate the young law students with a better understanding of their future career and expectations therefrom, Dato’ Mah then summarised the natural progression of a legal career in Malaysia, starting from their legal education, post-graduation and employment opportunities. He also talked about his progression from life at the bar, life as a judge and finally, his retirement. Throughout his presentation, he peppered his points with interesting stories and experiences of his own as well as providing advice, adding a personal insight and close-up view of the life of a legal practitioner.

“Think of law and your legal profession as your vocation. It has to be your calling and not just another job. If you take it as another job, you will lose your drive after a while and you will regret studying law. After all, being a lawyer is a marvellous thing because even if you don’t wish to practice law, it is still a stepping stone that will open doors for you,” said Dato’ Mah.

“Standards of the Bar are very high and you should always try to compare and aspire to be like the giants of the Bar. For instance, Karpal Singh was a giant of the Bar and a benchmark when he was still around. Many people would look up to him because he was a fantastic advocate and brilliant litigator who it was always a pleasure to listen to. Here is a man who would tackle an issue head on and he would go for the jugular instead of wasting time on smaller matters. He was very tenacious when he knew he had a good point but he was also willing to concede, and that is a hallmark of a good lawyer.”

Dato’ Mah when speaking about his life as a judge, addressed the importance of the Oath of Office and what it meant to him. To him, the Oath translated into discipline, dexterity, upholding the rule of law, the ability to write good judgments, intellectual honesty, and the absence of favouritism and corruption.

About the speaker

Dato’ Mah was appointed a Commissioner of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) for the term 2016-2019. Previously, he was appointed as a Judicial Commissioner of the High Court of Malaya and then a Judge of the High Court of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur. He was elevated to the Court of Appeal in 2012 and retired from the judiciary in 2015. Dato’ Mah was appointed a Commissioner of the Malaysian Aviation Commission in 2016. Presently, he is a Legal Consultant with M/s MahWengKwai & Associates and also presides as an Arbitrator and Mediator.

Dato’ Mah was called to the English Bar as a Barrister-at-Law 1971 and to the Malaysian Bar as an Advocate and Solicitor of the High Court of Malaya in 1972. From 1973 to 1985. Dato’ Mah served in the judicial and Legal Services of Malaysia and held, inter alia, the posts of Magistrate, President of the Sessions Court and Senior Assistant Registrar of the High Court. He also served as a Deputy Public Prosecutor and Senior Federal Counsel in the Attorney General’s Chambers in 1978 and 1981, respectively. From 1985 to 2009, Dato’ Mah left the Judicial and Legal Services and resumed practice as an Advocate and Solicitor in M/s MahWengKwai & Associates and had acted as Counsel in numerous arbitration hearings.

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