The Legal Profession Act 2012 which was withdrawn from the 25 September sitting of the House of Assembly will be making a return to the House during this new session.
The announcement was made by His Excellency Governor, John Duncan in his Speech from The Throne delivered on Monday 10 November. The Speech outlined the legislative agenda of the Government for this new session of the House.
In mentioning the bill’s planned return His Excellency said: “Keen attention will be given to ensure that my Government re-introduces the Legal Profession Bill to determine the requirements for practice of the profession after formal legal education and to govern the conduct of legal practitioners.”
The Legal Profession Bill 2012 is substantially in the form of the 2007 Bill and includes the same objects and reasons as the previous legislation. The noted difference in the 2012 legislation includes the amendments to key features which include: the powers of the General Legal Council, the criteria and qualifications for admission to practise and issue of practising certificates, funding of Legal Aid, the criteria for temporary admission of Foreign Counsel, the mechanics of pupillage or post qualification training, and the Code of Ethics.
It was explained that the 2007 Act needed to be amended to create the 2012 legislation because various challenges and issues surrounding the practice of Virgin Islands law were noted.
In fact, when the Bill had its first reading Premier, Dr. the Hon. D. Orlando Smith during the 29 June 2012 sitting of the House pointed out that challenges remain, and in some areas have increased, given internal and external features of the Territory’s continued socio-economic development.
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.”
However, on 25 September 2014 when the bill was before the House of Assembly it was withdrawn by Premier Smith who announced that he was doing so because some concerns were raised.
The BVI Leader explained that the Bill attracted the attention and comments from persons both inside and out of the legal profession and as such he said that it was felt that such comments should be considered.
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.”