PETALING JAYA: Trainee lawyers who have been victims of sexual harassment by their seniors during their pupillage should come forward and not suffer in silence, says Bar Council president Salim Bashir.
He said the Bar Council had always taken a strict approach against any form of sexual harassment and has previously called upon the government to legislate a specific law to govern such an offence.
Last week, a group of young lawyers said a culture of fear during their pupillage in chambers prevented them from speaking up about low allowances and sexual harassment,
Salim said: “As lawyers and professionals, the victims must be brave enough to come forward and not suffer in silence.”
He said the Bar had designated officers who could guide the trainees and advise them on possible actions, such as lodging a disciplinary complaint. “The Disciplinary Board is armed with powers to enquire, investigate and mete out punishments,” Salim told FMT. Victims could also lodge police reports.
He acknowledged that there could be other reasons for victims not to come forward, such as the fear of retaliation, loss of career prospects, damage to reputation and conflicting emotions.
Salim said victims of sexual harassment could also file a civil suit against the perpetrators.
Last week, the group of young lawyers said the Malaysian Bar had recently admitted faults in its mechanism to deal with sexual misconduct, with just one report lodged in the past 13 years since the mechanism began.
The young lawyers also said they were unable to speak out about the abuse for fear that their masters would not endorse their Certificate of Diligence
Salim said the pupils should not feel beholden to their masters, who were required to issue the certificate unless for reasons acceptable to the Bar Council, such as absence from pupillage. The court could also take other evidence into account, he said.
Last week, the young lawyers had called for a minimum level of payment for their services during their mandatory nine-month pupillage, during which they receive allowances, which can vary from RM400 in Pahang to RM2,000 in the Klang Valley.
Salim said pupils’ masters were not required under the law to provide remuneration but such payments may be made by arrangement between pupil and pupil master.