The local legal fraternity here has hit back at Attorney General Adriel Brathwaite, arguing there was no need to rush a new Legal Professions Act.
Brathwaite last week accused the lawyers of getting in the way of the speedy passage of the new legislation and put them on notice that “with or without your cooperation, we will take a new Legal Professions Act to Parliament before the end of the year”.
In an address at a meeting of the IMPACT Justice Project, the Attorney General complained at the time that he had had dialogue with three presidents of the Barbados Bar Association since his appointment in 2010, yet the draft changes to the law were lying at the Bar.
However, in a strong response, President of the Bar Association Tariq Khan called on Brathwaite to recognize that the lawyers were the experts on how the changes would work, adding that the proposed reforms went to the very root of the legal profession and should not be rushed.
Admitting that the association had requested a June 30 deadline by which to respond to the proposed changes, Khan said the grouping of attorneys was not rejecting the amendments, but was simply ensuring that the “nuts and bolts” were properly and carefully handled.
“This is a major piece of legislation that covers a number of areas. The areas include specialisms, the code of ethics, accountancy, how a person practises [and] establishment of professional companies. This piece of legislation or these pieces of legislation go to the root of the Legal Professions Act as it stands at the moment. And we need the time to canvass a membership of over 1,000 attorneys to provide a proper response. It is not about rejection, but about the nuts and bolts of the reform that have been proposed,” he told Barbados TODAY.
The legal spokesman also wanted the Attorney General to understand that the lawyers needed to determine how the reforms would be implemented and whether they were adequate or properly focused to achieve the outcomes that both sides desired.
“The Bar is an important stakeholder as the Attorney General has said. He invites us to comment, we want to comment; and we want to be consultative and we want to be treated as an equal partner in the way that we move ahead and modernize the legal profession.”
Touching on the contentious issue of legal aid, the Bar president also said that lawyers often continued to provide legal aid even if they were not paid for their services under the Community Legal Services arrangement.
“Barbados wants a first world service and they are entitled to want that. But, equally, lawyers must be equipped and must be remunerated properly to provide the representation that persons who qualify for legal aid are entitled to. So all of that contributes to the way that we move ahead together with the Attorney General to bring about solutions and outcomes that benefit all,” stated the Bar Association head.
Importantly, Khan suggested, Barbadians must be provided with quality service, which could only be achieved if there was commonality among the profession, the judiciary and the vision of the Attorney General.
He also said his predecessors had been writing the Attorney General since 2010 with suggestions on improving the profession, including proposals for reforming to the Legal Professions Act.
“We have always been in favour of continuous professional development. It makes us better lawyers; it provides a degree of certainty to the type of expertise that members of the public are entitled to expect. We want to move ahead with that; and it is important that we are recognized as the experts in how this will work in Barbados,
as well as working with the Attorney General and his office,” Khan told Barbados TODAY.