BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN – The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court issued a stern warning to the legal fraternity on Thursday, saying “errant solicitors” would not be tolerated after a former president of the Law Society was disbarred last November.

Speaking at the opening of the Legal Year for 2023, Dato Steven Chong said the court “would not hesitate to take firm action” against disreputable lawyers in order to maintain the integrity of the legal profession.

“Any degradation of standards is not acceptable,” he said in his annual speech.

The chief justice was referring to the recent disbarment of Rozaiman Abdul Rahman — a former  president of the Law Society from 2014 to 2017, and again from 2018 to 2019 — who was struck off the roll after the Supreme Court found he had forged his client’s signature and negotiated an out-of-court settlement without her consent.

When handing down its judgment last November, the court said his conduct exemplified “the worst instances of a lawyer’s breaches of the code of conduct… with significant degrees of deceit and dishonesty”.

Chief Justice Dato Steven Chong (top row, centre) is flanked by Justice Hj Abdullah Soefri (top row, L) and Justice Muhammad Faisal (top row, R) during the opening of the Legal Year on Feb 9, 2023. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

The current Law Society president, Mansur Latif, said the society would be amending its complaint proceedings to establish a single committee to review public complaints against members of the bar.

Between 2018 and 2022, a total of 23 complaints were heard by the Law Society’s Inquiry Committee, three of which were investigated by the Disciplinary Committee.

“Regulating the conduct of advocates is a painstaking, heartbreaking, but necessary task,” he said in his customary speech at the opening of the Legal Year.

Law Society President Mansur Latif gives his customary speech at the opening of the Legal Year on Feb 9, 2023. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

Questions on Land Code still unresolved

The Law Society president said the Ministry of Development had finally invited the legal fraternity to give its views on proposed amendments to the Land Code.

Back in 2012, the government announced plans for a new law that would void land ownership purchased through power of attorney, a move that would potentially affect around 47,000 land deeds.

However, since the announcement was made the government has yet to enact legislation to support the policy, which has created uncertainty around how landed property can be legally purchased and transferred in Brunei.

“We hope that this amendment will achieve clarity on the subject,” Mansur said. “We look forward to seeing a clear resolution on these issues for the benefit of all.”

Members of the legal fraternity attend the opening of the Legal Year at the Supreme Court building. Photo: Rudolf Portillo/The Scoop

Need for regulatory body in mediation

With the judiciary encouraging the use of mediation as a dispute settlement mechanism, the Law Society has called for a regulatory body to govern mediation.

The society’s president reported that the Prime Minister’s Office has taken the lead in shaping the framework for proposed legislation on mediation.

Online hearings here to stay

Although in-person hearings have resumed after Brunei lifted almost all COVID restrictions, online proceedings will become a permanent feature of the courts, the chief justice said.

Between August 2021 and October 2022, a total of 3,542 cases were conducted through virtual hearings.

Dato Chong said legal practitioners must keep up-to-date on digital literacy skills so they are not left behind.