Overview Report on the 21st LAWASIA Conference 2008 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Contributed by Lau Yi Lin


The Opening Ceremony – October 29th, 2008


The Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre was a hive of activity from November 29th, 2008 till October 1st, 2008; befitting as it boasted the largest participation in LAWASIA’s history with over 600 delegates comprising both from Asian and foreign jurisdictions. The opening ceremony was officiated by our Prime Minister, Dato’ Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi; after which the delegates were ushered into buses leading to Carcosa Seri Negara, a colonial heritage for a welcoming cocktail reception. Unsuspecting guests had first-hand experience of the warm, cordial environment of Malaysian culture which showcased performances of wayang kulit (puppet shadow play), batik printing and fortune telling in the grand, colonial mansion. This fusion of the oriental east and colonial west coincidentally suited the theme “Challenging Asia” in days to come as our beloved region had much legal potential yet to be tapped. 


The First Day – October 30th, 2008


The format of the conference was a myriad variety of legal specializations comprising of three to four concurrent daily sessions. The morning session saw forums on Business Finance, Sports Law and Labour and Migrant laws. The nascent economic malaise has unfortunately placed the Middle East and China in a financial quandary. Financing businesses have become difficult coupled with existing barriers in the form of strict financing structures and conflicting federal and local laws in China. Yet all is not lost as steps are being taken towards implementation of a new banking regulation of e-money and online settlements which are beneficial in the long run and is on the rise. This proves to be a right step forward in financial business.


One should never be mislead by the seemingly negligible area of sports law as most international sports federations are required to assent that all disputes be referred to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). Each Olympic athlete is required to sign this agreement.


Whilst we cannot deny the effects of globalization as migrants are on the rise in developing countries, what we can do as a cultured society is to protect their rights. The migrant law forum reviewed the current laws of Australia, Vietnam, Malaysia and the UK in affording protection to these workers.


A special plenary address saw Raja Nazrin Shah, the Crown Prince of Perak enunciating that “Challenging Asia” has as much to do about deepening the relationships that connect Asians together, as it is about common policy responses to the forces swirling around Asians. Only via inclusive development through empowerment can we achieve a lasting outcome in society.

The second session of the day presented segments on Banking and Finance, Criminal law and Legal Practice Management. The advent of mobile banking in expanding financial services to the poor, the development of Islamic banking in Malaysia and legal issues relating to securities in Sri Lanka were presented by the speakers, each eminent in their field.


As society progresses into higher levels of specialization, criminals have joined the bandwagon and are now not just confined to the common criminal on the street. Thus anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing laws are essential as well as the International Criminal Court (ICC) playing a more prominent role in curbing international crime.


The Legal Practice Management session promoted maintaining not only a good relationship with clients but also working on these relationships continuously until the point where mutual trust comes naturally to both solicitor and client.


The second plenary session had Tan Sri G. Gnanalingam speaking on the role of the private sector in contributing to a competitive Malaysia. The government has already done away with red-tape formalities by speeding up government procedures and thus is clearly on the right track.


Lunch was a meal of delectable western cuisine which also gave the opportunity to delegates to discuss topics of the day. The last plenary session for the day kick-started after lunch in which the Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Chaudhry spoke via video to the delegates about the paramount role of the rule of law and judicial independence.


The third session constituted talks on Islamic Finance, Information Technology and Disaster Across Borders. There is promise for Islamic finance as it does not speculate, rather it is based on the real capability of sectors in seeing the deal till the end. Although there is a lack of experts, the speakers expressed confidence in the current system as the teachings of the Quran will prevail in situations of doubt. The follow-up session on Islamic Finance examined the role of syariah advisors and the fourth wave wherein conventional banks are entering into the Islamic market in which substance takes precedence over form.


Next was the session on Information Technology. As information technology is now on the cutting age, Asian countries need to catch up in order to prosper with the rest of the region by enacting relevant laws. Nanotechnology also heralds a new beginning in the regulation of trademark.


When there is a world wide disaster, how prompt the international community reacts and how aid would reach the intended recipients were traversed by the panel. Current laws including the Geneva and Hague Convention are inadequate as they do not cover code of conduct during natural disasters and this results to different qualities of relief provided.


International divorces and marriage laws were the hot issues in the Family Law forum. Given the fact that is it much easier to travel abroad nowadays, the law has to keep up to protect the rights of the innocent child who is unwittingly used as a bargaining tool.


The Second Day – October 31st, 2008


Dato’ Zaid Ibrahim commenced the morning’s plenary session by bluntly dwelling into the sorry state of affairs in Malaysia. He subsequently called for reform in politics and the law via his speech “Malaysia, A Lost Democracy?” Our multi-billion ringgit achievements are eclipsed by national men-induced disasters such as the decimation of the judiciary in 1988, the politicization of Islam and the decline of race relations through the abuse of the National Economic Policy (NEP). The rule of law must be adhered to in order to move forward.


The first session of the day was the talk on Indigenous Rights where the speakers unanimously agreed that their rights should be protected via law reform and public awareness. Perhaps Malaysia should follow suit with the establishment of an Indigenous Court as in the Murri Court in Queensland, New Zealand which has commanded respect in culture, community, the law and the individual. Likewise the provisions of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) should be enforced in Malaysia.


Concurrently running was the session on Franchising, Media and Entertainment talks wherein licensing, trends and regulations were scrutinized. There is a need for a united stand as there is a lack of uniformity in franchising regulations in Asian Pacific regions.


For the session on the Environment, a clean and ecologically sustainable environment was advocated pursuant to climate change. Thus laws have to be legislated to cover all possible environmental breaches. Litigation is likely to be the main weapon in continuing efforts to combat global warming.


Malaysia’s Attorney General, Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail spoke on the ASEAN Charter in the subsequent plenary session wherein he believed that Malaysia’s sovereignty will not be affected by its enforcement so long as its primary objective is to encourage trade within ASEAN nations. After all, Article 1(1) of the Charter lays down the objective of the Charter which is “To maintain and enhance peace, security and stability and further strengthen peace-oriented values in the region”.


Justice Dato’ Gopal Sri Ram, judge in the Court of Appeal, thereafter canvassed on the creation and enforcement of constitutional rights in Malaysia. His Lordship hoped for judicial reform in Malaysia and reiterated the importance of the doctrine of separation of powers between the judiciary, legislature and executive by quoting case law as examples.


The afternoon session was on Personal Law and how in reality religious law can overlap with civil jurisdictions especially when it concerns Islamic law. In the Continuing Legal Education session, it was stressed that education is important for each and every lawyer as the legal profession is never static. As for the Young Lawyers – A Welcome Phenomenon or a Dangerous New Culture?” segment, it was submitted that given international trade, change is inevitable and young lawyers would have to adapt to it or lose out.


In the Intellectual Property session, the key issue was breach of privacy and that current data protection laws which were not sufficient to curb infringement of trademark. In the Evolving Constitutionalism and Human Rights discourse, the delegates were given an overview of the current human rights plight in Asia. Simultaneously running was the session on Practice Models in a Globalised Environment segment wherein issues covered ranged from the movement of law firms with an international dimension and to the impact of foreign lawyers entering into local jurisdictions.


A gala dinner sponsored by Petronas held at the Convention ballroom for all delegates came as a pleasant surprise. The Operafest Children’s Choir serenaded delegates with operatic arias in foreign languages. Ning Baizura enthralled delegates with her exuberance on stage and her powerhouse ballads. Late into the night, the delegates danced and gravitated on the dance floor, even making it up to stage with Ning Baizura. 


The Third Day – November 1st, 2008


The Senior General Manager of Petronas, Mohd Azhar Osman Khairuddin spoke on the role of lawyers in shaping a sustainable world during the morning’s plenary session; after which there were back-to-back sessions on Oil and Gas sponsored courtesy of Petronas. Good governance was crucial as lawyers influence change to ensure that there is a paradigm shift from non-depletable resources to a paradigm of sustainability. Energy policies and the protection of consumer rights was discussed in the first session while the second session focused on sustainable development in the petroleum industry, energy security and the challenges ahead.


The Dispute Resolution segment saw lawyers recognizing party autonomy in cross-border dispute resolutions. The Hague Convention on Choice of Court Agreements stipulated that in an agreement dispute, the chosen court must hear the case unless the agreement is deemed null and void whilst all other courts must suspend proceedings on the same matter. In the Evolving/Rebuilding Jurisdiction colloquium, speakers deliberated on economic sanctions and conducting businesses in high-risk jurisdictions. It was conceded that due to irrationality of authoritarian regimes, the law is volatile as military regimes could easily override the law when international sanctions are weak.


In the Judicial Activism session, it was held that judges should serve the interest of justice, whether or not they be seen as activist or passivist judges. At the end of the day though, it was agreed that the government does indirectly influence judges in certain jurisdictions. In the Tax Law session, latest developments were discussed and ways to minimize tax were suggested. Double Taxation Agreements (DTAs) are allocated between states to prevent double taxation and to allocate the right of taxation in Hong Kong.


The afternoon session embarked on opportunities, challenges and issues in Asia Pacific in relation to Maritime and Admiralty Law. Maritime piracy, registration and financing were analyzed in depth as this is a trillion dollar legal affair if successfully executed. Dredging, reclamation and construction industries are symbiotic to maritime law. 


Litigation experiences between speakers and members of the floor were exchanged in the Global Litigation: Simplifying the Myths session. The effects of discovery to a foreign litigant and the different jurisdictions between the Federal Court and State Courts in the United States were reviewed. In the Cross Borders M&A talk, challenges and pitfalls were discussed in relation to mergers and acquisitions and this proved to be popular among delegates. 


The Closing Ceremony – November 1st, 2008


After the last of sessions, the GL Sanghi Memorial Lecture was presented by the Hon. Soli J Sorabjee, former Attorney General of India. The closing ceremony was then presided by Christopher Leong, Chairman of the Conference Organizing Committee, Mah Weng Kwai, President of LAWASIA and Dato’ Ambiga Sreenevasan, President of the Malaysian Bar Council. The Chief Justice of Malaya, Tan Sri Dato’ Seri Zaki Tun Azmi officially pronounced the LAWASIA conference officially closed.


Ensuing the closing ceremony was the handover of LAWASIA’s flag to the next LAWASIA president and the promotion of the 2009 LAWASIA conference by the Ho Chi Minh Bar. At the after-party at The Apartment, Suria KLCC, delegates exchanged addresses and socialized before bidding farewell.


It was an enriching experience in the spirit of enthusiasm, sharing and building friendships amongst the legal fraternity.  In the words of the late Chief Justice Earl Warren (1891-1974):


“It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.” 


Let us meet in Ho Chi Minh next year!


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