KUALA LUMPUR, July 20 — The University of Malaya (UM) is publishing the country’s first law journal exclusively run by students that aims to be of similar standards to similar international legal publications, like the prestigious Harvard Law Review.
The University of Malaya Law Review’s inaugural volume, which will be published on July 31, features an article by retired Federal Court judge Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram on the future of locus standi in public interest litigation, as well as a piece by UM law professor Datuk Shad Saleem Faruqi and Selangor Speaker Hannah Yeoh on enhancing the effectiveness of Parliament.
“The reason I proposed this idea was because I think that law students need to keep in touch with the pulse of the current legal events in the country. From my experience, the cases that we use in our studies are often from 10, 20 years ago,” UM Law Review founding editor-in-chief Leeroy Ting Kah Sing told Malay Mail Online in an interview.
“When you have a Law Review...these are incentives for students to continuously keep track of the law and give opinions and critical analyses of what they think of current legal issues in this country,” the third-year law student added.
Ting said the dean of the UM law faculty, Assoc Prof Johan Shamsuddin Sabaruddin, has been floating the idea of a student-run law journal for years.
“I was the first to present a formal proposal to the dean to establish the Law Review and he agreed to lend his support and the faculty’s backing,” said Ting.
Johan Shamsuddin, who is also academic adviser of the UM Law Review, said the journal is independent of the faculty.
“Editorial and organisational decisions are by the students,” Johan Shamsuddin told Malay Mail Online at the same interview, adding that funding came from the faculty. “We will grant them that independence.”
“We want to show our students can run international world-class journals. This is what we’re pushing for, to raise the profile of the students and the faculty, and also the country. Once this journal gets attention overseas, people will know that these are Malaysian law students writing a world-class journal,” he added.
Judges on the Federal Court, the Court of Appeal and the High Courts are mostly UM law graduates, said Johan Shamsuddin, with Chief Justice Tan Sri Md Raus Sharif also hailing from the public university.
According to Ting, the English-language UM Law Review aims to be a resource for practising lawyers and law students that features scholarly works by outside authors and UM law students on a wide range of topics, including comments and analysis of recent legal issues, court decisions and legislations. The journal also enables students to sharpen their legal writing skills.
The articles by UM law graduates and current students featured in the inaugural volume comprise topics like Muslim polygamous marriages in Malaysia, attempted suicide, changes in the Companies Act 2016, the lack of remedial provisions in the Persons with Disabilities Act 2008 for disabled people who suffer discrimination, and using the Environmental Impact Assessment mechanism to protect native customary land rights in Sarawak.
There are altogether 11 articles in the UM Law Review’s debut volume.
The UM Law Review is an annual journal that will be published every July; the inaugural volume is 170 pages long. The editorial board comprises 16 student editors and is currently advised by Johan Shamsuddin himself as academic adviser, and editorial adviser Sarah Tan Yen Ling, who is a senior lecturer in law.
Just how independent is it?
Ting said the UM Law Review’s review process includes many steps: each article is reviewed anonymously, in which the author puts his name on a separate page. One editor will review every submission before it is sent to the executive board comprising the editor-in-chief and the managing editor for a second round of review, who will look at the freshness of the topic, the depth of the legal analysis, whether any solutions are recommended, and how it fits with other articles.
Once the articles are selected, the authors are then identified and their consent obtained for publication. Then, the editor does fact-checking and makes improvements if necessary during the editing process. Editors are also encouraged to seek advice from law lecturers, which Ting said was “necessary in order to ensure we have an error-free article”.
In the final stage of the review process, the article is scrutinised by the editor-in-chief, the managing editor and the editorial adviser.
When asked if the UM Law Review would publish pieces critical of the establishment, for example on the Catholic Church’s “Allah” case, PAS’ Shariah Bill (RUU355), or Kelantan’s public caning Shariah law, Ting stressed that the journal’s review process was very rigorous.
“If an article does make it past all those stringent requirements, I think that academics is politically neutral. If an author were to come up with his own point of view, but it’s well substantiated and it’s argued pretty well, regardless of which side of the political divide the author stands on, I think that the editorial board has to give that author a ‘right to be heard’, so to speak,” said Ting.
UM Law Review editorial adviser Tan said what is important is that articles are accepted based on academic merit.
“When it’s taken in, it goes through an unbiased, neutral review process. Then it’s really from there that you decide. You can’t base a decision on whether it’s political or not,” said Tan.
Ting also stressed that the UM law faculty facilitated freedom of thought, saying: “A lot of students are very critical in their own right, whether it’s anti— or pro-establishment.”
In 2014, the UM Student Affairs Division reportedly barred former Malaysian Bar president Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan from giving a talk on public interest litigation that had been organised by the university’s Law Society.
Editor-in-chief selected through interview
Unlike the president of the Harvard Law Review who is elected, the UM Law Review’s editor-in-chief will be selected through an interview process.
“Moving forward, we do have plans for a screening process through an interview. For example, for the next editor-in-chief, we’ve already selected her and it was done through a panel interview—myself, the managing editor and Sarah,” said Ting.
“The reason why we have this interview instead of a direct election is because we think that we have experience in publishing a law review and therefore we would screen the candidates to see whether the candidates show the qualities necessary to be an editor-in-chief, whether they understand the processes of how a law journal works, and whether we think the individual has the work ethics necessary to tough through the nitty gritty details of a law review. If it’s up to an election, I think voters would subject candidates to less scrutiny,” he added.
An editor-in-chief serves for one volume, after which he will work at the subsequent volume as an editorial adviser.