Legislators remained in the House of Assembly past midnight examining the Bill entitled, “Legal Profession (Amendment) Act, 2015” which was subsequently passed with amendments minutes before 2:00a.m on 27 January.
Some legislators were particularly concerned about Clause Six of the Bill that called for overseas based attorneys to reside in the BVI for at least one year before being permitted to practice in the Territory.
The impractical nature of the clause was noted by Minister for Education and Culture, Hon. Myron Walwyn during his debate contribution. Hon. Walwyn, who is also a lawyer by profession, announced that the recommendation had the propensity of hurting the financial services sector. “If the provisions become too onerous, you end up hurting the financial services in our country,” he declared to his fellow lawmakers.
“If you are requiring for instance the non-resident legal practitioner to practice law in the Virgin Islands for a period of at least one year prior to being required to serve as a non-resident legal practitioner to practice Virgin Islands law’ you are essentially just by the stroke of a pen eliminating a number of attorneys in different parts of the world — Hong Kong for instance — who are selling BVI companies,” Hon. Walwyn explained.
The Minister for Education went on to say that by passing the legislation as-it-is, the House was asking attorneys residing outside the jurisdiction to move to the BVI. This was, in his opinion, not convenient: “You are preventing them from practicing Virgin Islands law because you have required them to come to live in the Territory for a year. How practical is that? That is something that we have to grapple with,” he stated.
“I will tell you this: when a client picks up the telephone to call an attorney and say ‘I want to set up a corporate structure; this is what I want and blah blah blah,’ the attorney would have to then advise the client on which jurisdiction he or she thinks is the best jurisdiction to fit his needs,” Hon. Walwyn stated.
“The business that we get here, the company incorporation and so on that we get here it doesn’t drop out of the sky. There are a number of persons who are operating on behalf of our Territory to send the business in our direction. And, if you have those lawyers and you are saying to them that you have to come in the BVI to live for a year before you can practice Virgin Islands law, when the client calls them on the phone, they gonna direct them to Cayman Islands or direct them to some other jurisdiction that wouldn’t have this sort of provisions. And so we have to be very careful,” Hon. Walwyn advised.
In lamenting the seriousness of such a clause, Hon. Walwyn said that the one year requirement would make the Territory extremely unattractive: “This provision as it stands can’t stay; it has to go; because you are going to be affecting the financial services sector by doing that (approving the clause). You are going to boycott the country because nobody with half a brain would recommend a jurisdiction where they can’t practice.”
Premier, and Minister for Finance Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith disclosed that he also had concerns about Clause Six of the Bill: “I heard the Minister of Education just now speaking about the provision in the Bill which requires lawyers practicing overseas in order to have a practicing certificate to be resident in the BVI for at least one year, something which we all agree is not practical,” Hon. Smith pointed out.