There are a number of committees within AWL for the 2021/2022 term. These include:
The Resilience Programme 2021
The Women Lawyers Conference 2021
Here at the Association of Women Lawyers, we know that sometimes all it takes to change the world is a little support. Since our founding, we have been determined to make an impact.
The core of our efforts have been focused on connecting the women in the Malaysian legal communities with each other, to network together and to bring fresh ideas, strategies and passion to the range of activities we are involved in.
The leadership of the AWL community has been integral to this journey, and we are pleased to recognise these individuals.
The Presidents of AWL
Santhi Latha: President from 2021 - 2022
After completing her legal education, Santhi Latha joined academia to train upcoming lawyers. With more than two decades of teaching in Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong, Santhi Latha became involved in international school education, and was the Project Manager for the first Smart School in Malaysia under the Paramount Corporation Bhd (2002-2004) and the Project Consultant for APIIT's first private and international school (2004-2006).
She was invited to spearhead the development of the operational, administrative and technology structure of the Continuing Professional Development Department of the Malaysian Bar (2012-2019), and is currently the Dean of the Rajah & Tann Asia Academy, a part of the Rajah & Tann Asia network.
Santhi’s work encompasses insightful designing of high impact educational and training systems, structures and content that focus not only on specific knowledge and expertise, but also on the individual skills, competencies and mindsets that allow learners to continue to grow, well past individual learning experiences, by setting in place effective processes and policies, and through the use of efficient and effective technological tools.
Service driven, on a personal basis Santhi has spent almost a decade working with the Association of Women Lawyers in Malaysia, and has contributed to initiating a variety of events and activities geared toward the empowerment of women generally, and female lawyers specifically, in the country.
Actively committed to the development of the legal community in Malaysia, Santhi continues to contribute to the Malaysian Bar through the Common Bar Course Committee, the Innovation & Future of Law Committee and on the Kuala Lumpur Bar Committee's Gender, Equality & Diversity Committee.
Sheena Gurbakhash: President from 2019 - 2021
Sheena Gurbakhash describes herself as a caffeine-fuelled creative person who writes for a living. She attended Bukit Bintang Girls’ Secondary School, and Kent College, Pembury before graduating from the City of London Polytechnic (London) with a BA (Hons) Law. She returned to Malaysia, where she completed the Certificate of Legal Practice and chambered at Skrine (then known as Skrine & Co). She was called to the Bar in September 1989.
For the first seven years of her career, she juggled legal practice with feature-writing and journalism. Sheena got her start in media as a journalist and columnist in 1990, writing for various Malaysian newspapers, including The Star Newspaper and the Sun for whom she wrote weekly legal columns (1989 - 1992) and (1995 - 1997). Her work has also been featured in the Far Eastern Economic Review, The New Straits Times and Malaysiakini. She was Managing Editor of Praxis, the quarterly magazine produced by Bar Council Malaysia from (2018 – 2020). In addition to a number of coffee table books, her published work includes At the Forefront of Nation Building: Perspectives from the Administrative and Diplomatic Service (2014) UiTM Press.
Sheena writes for TV and the stage. Her theatre credits include Puppets (1994), The Fat Girls Revenge (2000), Motherland, which was featured at the Feminist Perspectives of Legal Theory Workshop in September 2019, held in conjunction with the Women’s Centre for Change, Penang & Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law & Development (APWLD), and Pineapple Tarts, which is slated to be performed at the Women’s Theatre Festival by Panas Panas Theatre.
Sheena joined AWL in 2011. One of the first projects she spearheaded through 2012, was the legal literacy programme for women on Capital Radio which she wrote and co-presented on a weekly basis. She co-organised the Women Lawyers’ Conference in conjunction with the Malaysia Bar Continuing Professional Development Department in 2017. She was actively involved in the campaign to end child marriage as well as the campaign raise awareness about sexual harassment issues. She has delivered training programmes for the Malaysian Bar which include `Writing for the Bar’ and `Managing your Brand in the Big Bad World of Social Media’.
During her tenure as President of AWL, she co-organised the Women Lawyers’ Conference 2019 with the Malaysia Bar Continuing Professional Development Department. As the Covid-19 Pandemic unfolded during her Presidency, Sheena and her committee implemented a series of webinars which addressed issues faced by members as a result of the pandemic. She also laid the groundwork for AWL’s Resilience Programme.
Tham Hui Ying: President from 2017 - 2019
Tham Hui Ying has more than seven years' legal and human rights advocacy experience in Malaysia, specialising in women’s and children’s rights.
As the current Director of Asylum Access Malaysia, Hui Ying oversees all programs and operations, and serves as the organisation's primary policy advocate and overall ambassador. She is currently Deputy Chair of the APRRN’s South East Asia Working Group.
Previous work experience includes serving as President of the Association of Women Lawyers and as a member of the Malaysian Bar Council Human Rights Committee.
Hui Ying has a MSc in Human Rights from LSE, completed her Bar Vocational Course at the Bristol Institute of Legal Practice in University of the West of England, and completed her L.L.B. Law at the University of Reading.
Goh Siu Lin: President from 2015 - 2017
Goh Siu Lin was admitted as an Advocate & Solicitor of High Court of Malaya in 1995. She has been in active practice since then with a special focus on banking and general litigation, contentious probate and family litigation. She was formerly the Deputy Head of the Family, Probate & Trusts Department of Shook Lin & Bok.
Handling a wide variety of legal practice areas, Goh Siu Lin focuses on civil litigation, banking & finance, probate, child and family law.
She has also acted pro bono on briefs concerning inter-faith conversion custody disputes, domestic violence) on behalf of the Joint Action Group for Gender Equality, as well as in respect of criminal proceedings related to grooming and sexual offences under the Sexual Offences Against Children Act 2017.
She was one of the inaugural group of lawyers which underwent the Training of Trainers for Ethical Representation of Children in Conflict with the Law, and for Custody and Adoption Proceedings (“Training of Trainers”) organised by the United Nations Children’s Fund (“UNICEF”) in collaboration with the Bar Council, and conducted by the Canadian Bar Association. She has been a trainer at previous sessions of the Elementary Course on the Representation of Children in Malaysia.
She was one of the inaugural group of family practitioners in Malaysia trained in Collaborative Law method by the International Academy of Collaborative Professionals, United States of America.
Meera Samanther: President from 2011 - 2013 & 2013 - 2015
Meera Samanther read Law and completed her Masters in Law in the areas of Intellectual Property and Shipping Law after which she worked as a Commercial Litigator at Messrs Shearn Delamore & Co.
In 1995, Meera became a member of Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), that advocates for and lobbies against laws and policies that discriminate against women.
Meera rejoined legal practice to work on Human Rights cases for WAO and the women’s movement in Malaysia under the Joint Action Group on Gender Equality, (JAG). In this regard, she has handled a variety of cases including those involving domestic violence, rape, statutory rape, migrant worker abuse, and infringement of constitutional rights related to conversion cases and the right to profess one’s faith.
Meera was elected President of WAO in 2000. She was appointed as Co-Chair of the Law & Policy Sub-Committee of the National Steering Committee on Violence Against Women, which was set up by the Government. The terms of reference for this Sub-Committee was to look at best practices and recommendations that would be included in the Domestic Violence Act.
In 2001, Meera played an instrumental role in convincing the former Minister of Women, Family & Community Development, Dato Sharizat of the need to include gender discrimination in Article 8 of the Federal Constitution. It was a milestone victory for the women's movement in Malaysia.
Being an advocate for women's rights, she has traveled Internationally as part of a six-member NGO delegation that submitted before the CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) in New York in 2006, when the Malaysian government was reporting on this matter.
Meera also sits on the International Advisory Council of the Coalition of Sexual Bodily Rights (CSBR), that brings together men and women from the Asia Pacific region to discuss, strategise and lobby on issues pertaining to the autonomy of women’s bodily rights.
Meera has regular conducted training on Feminist Litigation Strategy with a focus on looking at laws and policies from a feminist lens and participants for this training are most commonly pupils in chambers.
Meera was a member of the Committee of the Article 11 Movement advocating Freedom of Religion and has spoken at public forums in Penang, Malacca and Johore on this matter.
In 2011, Meera was elected as President of AWL and upon completion of her two terms, she continues to play an integral role as a member of the Executive Committee.
In 2014, Meera initiated a collaboration with the Malaysian Bar to conduct a Baseline Survey on the Working Conditions of Male & Female Lawyers in Kuala Lumpur and Selangor, in particular looking at issues of discrimination and sexual harassment within the Malaysian legal fraternity.
Meera was part of the NGO Committee involved in the drafting of the Gender Equality Bill and the Sexual Harassment Bill.
Meera is also part of a six-member team of the Harapan OKU Law Reform Group, involved in redrafting the Persons With Disability Act; and she is currently assisting the Bila Kami Bersatu Team of the Hospital Cleaners Union.
Foo Yet Ngor: President from 2009 - 2011
Called to the English Bar (1980), and to the Malaysian Bar (1982), Ms Foo was formerly a Partner of Messrs Shearn Delamore. She is the founding Partner of Messrs Y N Foo & Partners, practising principally in the area of family law since 1996. In addition to the cases within Malaysia, Ms Foo also handles cases with an international element.
She addition to her professional responsibilities, Ms Foo is active in the Malaysian Bar and has held a variety of posts on different committees, including:
Deputy Chair Family Law Committee of the Bar Council of Malaysia;
Member of the Disciplinary Committee Panel of the Malaysian Advocates and Solicitors’ Disciplinary Board;
Working Committee of joint Bar Council / Attorney General Chambers to reform the Malaysian Law Reform (Marriage & Divorce) Act 1976; and
Amicus curiae on behalf of the Malaysian Bar Council in a number of landmark cases in family law.
Vicky Alahakone: President from 2007 - 2009
Vicky has presented several papers both locally and internationally on Family Law including a paper on Domestic Violence and its effect on Children in Malaysia at the 6th World Congress on Family Law and Children’s rights in Sydney, Australia 2013; and appeared several times on local TV and radio talk shows discussing Family Law and Children’s rights under the law.
She is currently a member of the Family Law Committee with the Bar Council Malaysia
Rasamani Kandiah: (14 July 1945 - 22 October 2019): President from 1991 - 1993
She completed the English Bar examinations in 1965 but to be eligible to be called to the Bar of England and Wales, she had to attend further legal studies to await her attainment of the age of 21 years. This was then a stipulated legal age requirement to be accepted to the Bar. She was consequently admitted to the Bar in July 1966.
To further broaden her legal qualifications, she went on to do a study of Islamic legal law. She obtained a Diploma in Shariah law and Practice at the University of Islamic Studies, Malaysia. Her last progressive education was doing a Masters course on International Trade.
Rasamani spent her pupilage with prominent legal firms namely Rodyk & Davidson in Singapore, and upon completion she was admitted to the Singapore Bar in 1967. Thereafter she attended pupilage with Messrs Rithaudeen & Aziz, Kota Bharu, Kelantan, and later with Messrs Khoo & Sidhu in Kuala Lumpur. She was admitted to the Malaysian Bar in 1968.
She commenced legal practice as a legal assistant with Messrs Khoo & Sidhu, and thereafter she was offered a partnership with the firm. Several years later, she moved on to become a partner with Messrs Mohd. Latip & Associates.
With more than five decades (52 years) of a legal career, many of which involved litigation work and charitable causes. Her accomplishments were commendable.
As an eminent Barrister, she used her legal platform to help support the voiceless, the ordinary people. She laboured for charitable causes. She also championed many causes. Two of which she spoke with her heart and soul especially women's rights and fighting against child abuse.
As President of the Malaysian Ceylonese Congress, her last contribution and commitment to humanity was to initiate numerous sessions to bring cancer awareness to elderly people both male and female. She was in contact with cancer authorities in setting up cancer screening tests.
She was a Founder Member of the Association of Woman Lawyers and held the posts of Treasurer (1970 - 1978);
Secretary (1979 - 1985);
Vice President (1986 - 1990); and
President (1991 - 1993).
She was also the Chairperson of the Law Commission for National Council of Woman Organisation and appointed as Member of the National Advisory Council for Women and Development (NACWID).
Datin Dr Mehrun Siraj (19 July 1945 - 29 June 2021) President from 1987 - 1989
Datin Dr Mehrun Siraj grew up in Singapore strongly influenced by her teacher father and social worker mother who were both social activists and leaders of the community.
She became an Advocate & Solicitor of the Malaysian Bar (non-practising) in what year, a legal consultant for United Nations agencies year, and was a human rights activist who was a former Commissioner with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (SUHAKAM) year. She was also Adjunct Professor at the Kulliyah of Laws, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) year and sat on the Board of Directors, Institut Rakyat (under PKR) year.
Passionate about the issue of conversion to Islam, Datin Dr Mehrun Siraj wrote extensively about this area and she presented a number of papers on the subject including:
`Conversion to Islam and its Effect on a Non-Muslim Marriage’ which was presented at the inaugural law conference, Overview of Recent Development in Malaysian Law in 2006, organised by the Law Faculty of Universiti Malaya and LexisNexis.
`Conversion to Islam: Article 121(1a) of the Federal Constitution: Subashini and Shamala Revisited’, in which was presented in 2008 at a Bar Council focus, where she urged then Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to amend the civil laws to resolve the conflicts between a Muslim convert and a non-converting spouse. In this regard, she also recommended that the Syariah court should not unilaterally make any decisions that might affect the rights of non-Muslims.
`Human Rights and Freedom of Religion" which was delivered at the Malaysian Human Rights Day in 2009.
She also published `Resolving Child Custody Disputes: The Law & Practice in Malaysia’ with LexisNexis in 2012.
Datin Dr Mehrun Siraj was President of AWL in 1988 / 1989.
She is a Gender Expert Consultant to UNFPA Malaysia, Gender Lead for Malaysia for the UK ASEAN project on Future Cities & Low Carbon Energy project, Advocate and Solicitor in Malaysia & Singapore. Barrister at Law of Gray's Inn, London. She has a Master’s degree in International Business Law & Economics from London.
Ms Reddy worked with the UN for 27 years including as Director of the UN Human Rights Programme in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva; as Director of Civil Affairs in UN Peacekeeping Operations in Sudan; as Director of the United Nations Cambodia Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR); and as the Special Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Trafficking of Women & Children in the Asia Pacific Region.
Ms Reddy has also served as the Senior Coordinator for Refugee Women with UNHCR in Geneva, as the Regional Gender Adviser to UNICEF East Asia & the Pacific Region, and as the Senior Gender Adviser to the UN mission in East Timor & in New York. Whilst working with the UN she has contributed to the drafting of the Statute of Rome; Convention on the Rights of the Child & its Protocols; Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability; Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers & their Family; Protocol to Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; Palermo Protocol; SAARC Convention on the Prevention of Trafficking of Women and Children for Sexual Exploitation 2002; Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking of Human Beings 2005. She has further drafted the Women Peace & Security Resource Package for UNDPKO / DFS NY 2018; Promising Practices in Promoting Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women in Timor-Leste; Ten-Year Impact Assessment of UNDPKO implementing resolution 1325; the Five-Year Forward-Looking Strategies on Gender Equality & the Empowerment of Women for DPKO/DFS 2012-2016 in 2011 & contributing to the drafting of the land law, Civil Code, domestic violence law, human trafficking law, immigration and asylum law, penal code and gender equality laws of Timor-Leste, 2007-9.
Chen Kah Ling:
Ms Chen joined Skrine when when she was admitted to the Malaysian Bar in January 1968. She became a partner in January 1974 & was the first female partner of Skrine. She spent the first 12 years of her legal career in general litigation before switching to corporate work. Prior to her retirement in December 2009, she was the Head of the Corporate Division as well as a Senior Partner at Skrine. She became a Consultant at the firm in January 2010.
Throughout much of her legal career, she has participated & continues to participate, in various committees and working groups of the Malaysian Bar Council, being keenly interested in professional issues affecting the legal profession in Malaysia, including the admission of foreign lawyers & the introduction of limited liability legal partnerships in Malaysia.
Tan Sri Dato' Seri Siti Norma Yaakob:
Born on 6 July 1940, she is a retired Malaysian lawyer and judge, noted for being the first woman to become Chief Judge of Malaya. She was admitted to the English Bar in 1962, and returned to Malaysia to become the first Malay barrister in the country. She was also the first woman to take up an executive position in the government's legal service, and she achieved many more "firsts" as she advanced in her career, finally becoming Chief Judge in 2005.
Siti Norma was the first Malaysian to be elected president of the Commonwealth Magistrates & Judges Association (2006–2009). She is a Companion of the Order of Loyalty to the Crown of Malaysia and a Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm.
As her career advanced, she broke through more gender barriers in the Malaysian judicial system. She was the first Malaysian woman to become a High Court Judge (1983); a Court of Appeal Judge (1994); a Federal Court Judge (2001), and the Chief Judge of Malaya (2005), a position she held until her retirement two years later. She was active in other professional capacities throughout her time as a lawyer and judge. During the mid-1980s, she served as President for the Association of Women Lawyers. After her retirement from the judicial system, Siti Norma was appointed Pro-Chancellor of the University of Malaya in September 2007. She joined the boards of several public companies, including the Board of Directors for Mah Sing Group Bhd, of which she became Chairman in June 2018.