Neither the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) nor the police can take action against crooked lawyers if their clients who have been wronged do not come forward.
So says president of the association Liesel Weekes, who admitted that while there had been ‘talk’ of certain lawyers being dishonest, evidence had to be presented to justify those claims and to have that judicial officer punished.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Weekes revealed that while there was no “magic number” of offences before an attorney could be disbarred, she said a lawyer could lose their licence to practice law after committing just one offence.
However, she said it was important for the victim to follow through with their complaint.
“On many occasions in which clients have brought disciplinary proceedings against their attorneys for misappropriating or unduly withholding their funds, once the funds have been repaid the client is no longer interested in pursuing the matter at the disciplinary committee.
“So until the matter is properly ventilated and the disciplinary committee is in a position to make a determination so that recommendations for sanction can be made to the Court of Appeals, the attorney is going to continue to practice. So if the client withdraws the charge as soon as he gets back his money, there is no sanction because the disciplinary committee has not heard the claim,” Weekes told Barbados TODAY.
She maintained that sanctions could not be brought against any lawyer without proper evidence.
“You can hear somebody say this particular attorney has been guilty of taking a client’s money before, but where would I have empirical evidence of that? He or she has not been investigated and I don’t have any evidence on which I can say that I know for a fact that he or she has stolen money. Nobody has come to me and presented any evidence, so therefore, that attorney will be allowed to continue practicing,” Weekes pointed out.
She explained that while she was president of the association, she was not privy to any of that information as it was dealt with specifically by the BBA’s disciplinary committee.
Weekes said while the committee nor the Court of Appeal could impose a term of imprisonment, that option was still available to clients via of the law court.
And while she said until those lawyers were proven guilty they would be able to continue practicing, if they were convicted it would result in automatic disbarment.
“Imprisonment is not a sanction that is available under the Legal Profession Act or disciplinary rules. Imprisonment would have to be as a result of a prosecution in the courts in the ordinary way.
“So that it is open to a client at anytime that he has been defrauded of his money or that his monies have been misappropriated, that he goes to the police and makes a report and we know that there are a couple of those cases out there,” Weekes disclosed.
“We know that people have gone directly to the police and have made claims and that police have arrested and charged attorneys and that their matters have come on and that they are on bail. There are a couple of attorneys who are on bail now for those offences.” [email protected]