Disbarred attorneys must be prevented from offering legal services to the public “under new guises”, says Chief Justice Sir Patterson Cheltenham.
In his last address to the bench and bar in that role, he said legislation must be strengthened to end this practice.
“Where persons are found guilty of misconduct, are disbarred, they cannot be in a position to offer their skills to members of the public. Disbarment must be what it so clearly means – disbarment from the practise of the law in any guise,” Sir Patterson insisted.
Saying he had been made aware that persons who have been disbarred are “assuming new guises” and offering legal services to the public, the Chief Justice said the new Legal Profession Bill will address this issue.
He also stressed the need to update the system used to discipline attorneys.
“I must also repeat the need to have a completely new scheme for the discipline of attorneys-at-law, as the current regime has outlived its usefulness and must be replaced with a model that is swift in addressing the complaints of clients and attorneys who are literally under the barrel. Each party has a right to have those complaints adjudicated with dispatch.
To that extent, there must be a profound alteration in the composition of the disciplinary body, including its chairman…. Critically, it must be given the necessary resources to facilitate sitting on a more systematic basis than currently exists,” the chief justice said.
He made the comments while officially opening the 2023-2024 legal year in the No. 1 Supreme Court on Monday morning before an audience that included several high court judges, magistrates, Registrar of the Supreme Court Sharon Deane, Director of Public Prosecutions Donna Babb-Agard, and Commissioner of Police Richard Boyce.
In a wide-ranging speech, he pointed to the problems which continue to plague the island’s legal system, noting that while some adjustments are in the pipeline to address several of these, solutions must be made available for others.
One area he touched on was the need for legislation to allow for the implementation of judge-alone trials.
“This is badly needed as we continue to struggle to find jurors for seven criminal courts given that we are now doing continuous criminal assizes. I have been receiving letters addressed to me from some commercial organisations saying that they find it very strange that with a random selection of jurors, that they can end up with four members of their staff doing jury duty…. I found it troubling and brought it to the attention of the registrar,” Sir Patterson said.
He emphasised the need to increase personnel resources across several departments and for each judge to have a judicial assistant, as the current system of having one assistant serving several judges was inefficient.
In addition, Sir Patterson called for the creation of a Public Defenders Unit.
Admitting that the management of estates is one area where complaints were “long, woeful and frequent” for both lawyers and members of the public, the chief justice noted that a manual audit of all files from 2011 to the present day was finished recently and a detailed list of outstanding issues will be disseminated to the Barbados Bar Association “very shortly”.
Sir Patterson also lamented that Barbados’ success rate in mediation was far below the international benchmark and said fresh energy must be injected in this important area, with a floor at the Henry Forde and David Simmons Legal and Judicial Complex on Coleridge Street dedicated to alternative dispute resolution.