The Law Society has welcomed a report by the Malaysian Human Rights Commission published today which finds that the arrest of five legal aid lawyers last year was unlawful.

The lawyers were called to the police station to represent clients who had been arrested for attending an illegal assembly, but were then detained in the same cell by the Malaysian police.

After the Malaysian Bar Council raised concerns about the impact of the incident on the ability of lawyers to carry out their professional duties, the Malaysian Human Rights Commission agreed to hold a public inquiry into the matter.

English solicitor Shubhaa Srinivasan attended the inquiry on behalf of the Law Society and the Solicitors International Human Rights Group last summer. She was permitted to put questions to witnesses.

The commission found that the Malaysian police’s decision to arrest the lawyers, who were part of a Malaysian Bar Council legal aid programme, was unlawful and violated their human rights. The report was particularly critical of the two most senior police officers, whose actions ‘in bad faith’ led to the human rights violations, it said.

The commission recommended that the police acquire a better understanding of local and international human rights law, but stopped short of recommending disciplinary action.

Srinivasan said: ‘It is now up to the police force and government institutions to study the commission’s findings so that important lessons can be learnt and implemented. One of the things to seriously consider is the implementation of the Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.’

Law Society President Robert Heslett said: ‘The Law Society will continue to actively support the Malaysian Bar Council and the legal profession in Malaysia in their efforts to uphold the independence of the legal profession and respect for the rule of law.’