It has become evident to BU that one of the reasons the Disciplinary Committee (DC) cannot effectively carry out its work is because of a lack of resources. Even the well-meaning Andrew ‘Pilly’ Pilgrim could not make a difference and the incumbent Woodstock-Riley must be facing the same challenge.
The DC is an autonomous body – not to be confused with the Bar Association – of all volunteers therefore adequate administrative support is essential for the committee to do its work. Routine office activities to efficiently record complaints, follow up on decisions, timely service of documents and record of date served, records of what is sent out and follow up, notices to committee members of matters to be discussed to enable preparation etc. BU understands that the staff at the DC work only two days per week. To exacerbate the situation one staff member was extended to 5 days but was off sick for a large part of last year. After persistent representation by the BA another person was appointed to work 5 days per week by the Registrar. A scanner was used to better distribute documents and various systems put in place to have information automated. It is evident the BC needs greater resources to improve office administration to effectively tackle the mountain of complaints against members of the profession.
The committee meets every Tuesday but decided to meet one Saturday per month in an attempt to chip away at the backlog. Some hearings were done on other days to accommodate complainants and teleconferences used to facilitate overseas complainants. Complaints were prioritised and those involving financial issues as the highest. Firmer positions taken on adjournments by both parties.
It is BU’s view given the backlog – just like what exist in our Courts – a draconian and urgent intervention will be required by the government to address the several issues faced by the DC. A proposal was made to increase the size of the committee to 14. At present 7 persons with 4 needed as a quorum makes it very difficult to review complaints efficiently, schedule hearings and have decisions written. An increase in the amount of financial support received by the committee to improve administrative support has been requested. However BU suspects given the current state of public finances the challenge at the DC will be with us for a while longer.
One area the DC can improve is in the area of communication with the public to increase awareness of what the DC is mandated to do. BU understands that many persons use the DC as a means of collecting funds or resolving issues that can more effectively done in other forums.
It is interesting to note that the majority of complaints to the DC involve land matters. While there has been a suggestion to restrict funds paid to attorneys on land sales BU has been advised that is not something the DC can act on. BU’s concern is that Barbados should not have to reinvent the wheel in this regard. Let us borrow from other jurisdictions where disciplinary action is undertaken with fervour. We therefore await the proposed changes to the Legal Profession Act that is slated to be reviewed soon.
Can we [the people] expect to hear from the Attorney General and government on this issue?