The Legal Profession Act (LPA) 2016, which was subject to a lengthy back and forth consultation process, and even pulled from the House of Assembly table before making a subsequent return, has serious teething issues. Legal practitioners are not totally satisfied with the current legislation, and Attorney General (AG) Baba Aziz confirmed that indeed there are some issues that are blocking the bite in the legislation.
In his statement, delivered at the opening of the 2016/2017 Law Year by Solicitor General Jo-Ann Williams-Roberts, the Attorney General announced that despite the fact that in January 2016, the House of Assembly passed two amendments an examination of the Act as amended clearly reveals beyond doubt that it is at this point — in transition.
Mr. Aziz announced that the General Legal Council (the “Council”) that is provided for in Section 3 of the legislation has now been established, but he pointed out that it started off with the problems of any nascent institution. The problems highlighted by the AG included the fact that no budget has been allocated to it for its functioning.
“It is significant to point out at this stage that the Council’s power to certify that a particular applicant has complied in all other respects with the requirements of the Act as to admission as well as its statutory legal right to be represented at the hearing of an application for admission in the High Court is not in force,” the AG explained.
There is a disciplinary component to the legislation and the AG noted some concerns as well in that regard. He pointed out that the Act provides in section 27 for the establishment of a seven-member Disciplinary Tribunal. However, the Attorney General noted that the Tribunal is yet to be established despite the fact that nominations have been solicited.
Therefore, Mr. Aziz hopes that by the end of the year those upon whom the obligation to nominate persons for appointment to the Tribunal falls would do so. In fact, he explained that without a Disciplinary Tribunal the breach of the code of ethics in schedule 4 of the Act would go unpunished.
Premier Notes Legislative Importance of LPA
The legislation had its first reading during the 29 June 2012 sitting of the House, but on 25 September 2014 when the bill was again before the House of Assembly it was withdrawn by Premier, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith who announced that he was doing so because some concerns were raised.
However, despite the back and forth with the legislation, Hon. Smith maintained that Government was committed to seeing the Bill become law.
The BVI Leader said: “My Government is committed to the passage of legal profession legislation in order to: promote and ensure observance of the rule of law as a fundamental principle of our national development; preserve the integrity and reputation of the legal profession as an important component of this Territory’s system of administration of justice; promote our competitiveness as a leading financial services jurisdiction; and, most importantly, to enhance opportunities for meaningful participation of this Territory’s people in the growth and development of the legal services sector.”
Hon. Smith told the House: “We appreciate the importance of this Act because it would have an impact on how the legal profession is practiced in this country. It will also impact the economy of this country and businesses such as the financial services and other businesses that people engage in. Because of the fact that it is so important to get it right, while I agree it is not possible to get it completely right, I think it is our duty to get it as right as possible and take care of all the things that we need to take care of in the particular Act,” he said.
Hon. Smith also noted that the BVI is not the only jurisdiction dealing with such a Bill and told the House: “At least one other Territory had the same thing and just three years ago they brought it (Bill) and then withdrew it because they were still receiving comments about the Act which needed to be taken into account.”