KUALA LUMPUR: The Bar Council and the Royal Thai Embassy have launched a legal aid scheme called the Thai Citizens Legal Aid Scheme (T-CLAS) in an effort to extend legal assistance to Thai nationals in the country.
Malaysian Bar president George Varughese said that the scheme came about after both sides entered into an agreement last year to provide legal aid for Thai citizens residing here.
Currently, some 200,000 Thai citizens legally reside in Malaysia.
“The scheme aims to provide better access to legal aid for the Thais in Malaysia through legal clinics, public outreach programmes, regular prison visits and affordable lawyer fee schemes to Malaysia’s National Legal Aid Foundation.
“This new agreement between the embassy and the Malaysian Bar will expand the scope of the T-CLAS to cover northern states, namely Perlis, Kedah, Penang, Kelantan, and Terengganu. This is because there are a lot of Thai citizens in those states,“ he told reporters here, after the launch.
If the scheme was proven to be successful, the Bar may extend it to other states.
“Currently, this cooperation is only with Thailand. We are more than happy to work with other embassies or high commissions, but at the same time the Bar Council Legal Aid Centres does provide services for migrants.
“The Bar Council does not charge any fees but for this programme, the embassy will pay the lawyers a nominal fee to cover their disbursements,“ he said.
The areas in which the scheme provides assistance to Thai citizens includes Shariah law, those who are seeking clemency for inmates on the death sentence and family-related cases.
“There are also cases which involve family matters where Thai citizens marry Malaysians, then they divorce, so, what happens to the children? We provide assistance in cases of maintenance and custody too.
“Currently in Kuala Lumpur there is a team of 40 lawyers and now with the expansion of this scheme to other states, we will conduct more training due to the scheme’s expansion,“ he added.
Bar Council Legal Aid Centre (Kuala Lumpur) chairman Collin Arvind Andrew said that the T-CLAS will also allow for regular prison visits of Thai detainees in Sg Buloh and Kajang Prison.
“Outreach programmes for Thai nationals will also be held to create awareness on the various legal issues affecting Thai nationals in Malaysia,“ he added.
Thai ambassador to Malaysia, Narong Sasitorn, noted the majority number of court cases are tied to immigration-related problems and minor crime.
He added there are about 600 to 700 Thai nationals who are serving time in Malaysian prisons.