On 30 July, Barbados Today reported on the comments of Donville Inniss and the response by the Bar Association’s (BA) new president, Liselle Weekes.
BU has long stressed the necessity of removing from the BA all matters disciplinary and responsibility for the Compensation Fund. Therefore, Mr Inniss’ comments are welcome, if a little late. Mr Inniss proposes, “…the establishment in law of a new legal services council – similar in structure and form to that of the medical council; a council that comprises of members of the legal profession and individuals who may not be attorneys; a council that is supported not just by statute, but also by the resources of the state.”
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BU recommends to Mr Inniss that he takes a look at the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA) of England and Wales, as we have repeatedly suggested. This is a body with the power to fully regulate and discipline solicitors AND to make payments out of the Compensation Fund. It is separate and distinct from the Law Society of England and Wales, which is England and Wales’ version of our BA. The SRA has not only the power to discipline and to compensate, but also to step in if they have reason to believe that a firm is not acting properly, so as to protect the consumer.
In Barbados, the qualifications to practice law and be issued a practicing certificate is a legislative decision, unlike in England and Wales where such a decision devolves on the Law Society of England and Wales. The disciplining, however, falls on the SRA. In addition, the SRA can discipline on its own authority and does not refer the matter to the courts unlike the BA that must refer matters to the Court of Appeal.
On the SRA website, it provides a list of the members of its disciplinary committee, along with a brief resume of each. And surprise, surprise! A large percentage of them are NOT lawyers. Ms Weekes’ spurious claim, “I am not certain that those persons would be in a better position to interpret what is a breach of the Code of Ethics than the attorneys-at law who currently sit on it,” is asinine. Take a look at the Code of Ethics of the BA and then honestly say if you do not think that a senior student at one of our schools could interpret them.
The cases before the disciplinary committee that enter the public conscience always involve an element of criminality, like fraud and theft. And if the DPP got off his ass and prosecuted the malefactors, would they be tried by lawyers, or a jury of their peers taken from all walks of life and professions?
Ms Weekes blathers about her favourite “get out of jail” word “perceptions”. Ms Weekes, the “perception” of the majority of Barbados agrees with Mr Inniss when he posits, “If we are truly to have a legal profession in Barbados, as opposed to just . . . a collection of lawyers, then we as a society and you as lawyers, must unshackle your minds and help create a system that not just sustains faith in your profession, but also enhances the profession.”
Mind you, if the Bar Association does not determine the qualifications by which practicing certificates are issued; has no authority over to whom they are issued; cannot constitutionally enforce membership of the BA; cannot actually discipline; and loses authority over the Compensation Fund…..what exactly is its function, other than running a website and e-mailing court lists provided by the Registrar to BA members only, instead of forcing the Registrar to e-mail the lists to all those with practicing certificates?
Ms Weekes makes a valiant effort to hide behind the useless amendments to the Legal Professions Act but fails to record just how long the BA has taken to get back to the Attorney General with its views on these useless amendments.
BU really hates to apportion credit to Donville Inniss but fair is fair. Now, let us see what he does about this matter BEFORE the next elections, so we can know whether his sentiments are real or political. For if he is genuine and “puts his money where his mouth is” he will actually have made a big difference. The icing on the cake would be Bhana being cited for a breach of the chicken wing laws of Barbados.