The defining event of the past year was Hurricane Ivan, ‘a disaster that threatened to destroy every aspect of our lives both personal and professional,’ Attorney Wayne Panton said last week.
As president of the Caymanian Bar Association, he commented on topics of professional concern when he seconded the motion for the opening of Grand Court on 5 January.
Mr. Panton acknowledged ‘the tremendous efforts by a great many in both the public and private sectors in the weeks and months following the hurricane to ensure that the financial industry continued to function at its customary high levels of efficiency and professionalism in spite of the difficult conditions.’
He also referred to the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean Basin.
‘These experiences are a reminder of what is really important in life and should give a renewed appreciation for the simple principles that our Caymanian forefathers lived by. I speak not just of God-fearing Christian principles, but also of the fundamental principles of fairness, reasonableness and just plain right and wrong, which many believe are being undermined in these Islands.’
Later, after referring to the CBA’s position on Cabinet grants of status in 2003, Mr. Panton commented again on principles.
He quoted US President Thomas Jefferson: ‘In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.’
Mr. Panton continued: ‘Too much of our society today seems to mix principles and taste to come up with something which is sufficiently palatable and pleasing.
‘It has long been part of the Caymanian psyche that we must live by our principles both in business and in our personal life. It is the most important part of the traditional happiness of the Caymanian people. The erosion of those principles is threatening to bring about an inexorable change in the minds of Caymanians. It would truly be a shame and failure of our leaders if the very principles we are known for are destroyed.’
Mr. Panton noted that the two major Caymanian firms have opened new offices offshore and they are both now multi-jurisdictional practices. Other Caymanian firms have been involved in ‘cross border mergers’ in which they have become part of multi-jurisdictional organisations.
‘While consolidation in the offshore legal profession seems to be the current trend, it remains to be seen whether there will be long term benefits to all concerned and the CBA will as always express its concerns if there is any question of harm to the jurisdiction or to the interests of Caymanian attorneys,’ Mr. Panton said.
An ongoing initiative from late 2002 is the development of Rules of Professional Conduct for the profession and the development of a new system for the self-regulation of the profession. ‘The multi-jurisdictional operation of Cayman firms and the need for proper regulation makes the completion of this initiative a priority,’ he asserted.
Constitutional review process
At last year’s opening, CBA president Bryan Hunter advised that the CBA was not in agreement with the ruling party’s decision to change its position on certain key constitutional issues, such as the adoption of Island-wide single-member constituencies, term limits and the appointment of the Speaker of the House. ‘The CBA continues to maintain its position on these issues and hopes that the final form of constitution truly reflects the wishes of the people of Cayman,’ Mr. Panton stated.
Another ongoing issue was that of Caymanian Law School graduates obtaining articles of clerkship. The court had been advised in 2004 that ‘a tremendous amount of effort was made by the CBA to help resolve the issues which had been raised and it appears that that has happened. As far as I am aware, there have been no further complaints,’ the president reported.
This year the CBA will try to work with the Law Society to pursue the adoption by law firms of certain minimum training standards. ‘It is hoped that this will lead to young Caymanian lawyers being better prepared to start their careers in their chosen practice areas.’
He noted that the CBA has a standing committee to better communicate with students in relation to what is expected of them by the profession, including the high academic standards, and to assist students by providing advice and career counselling.
Review of commercial legislation
There have been joint efforts by the CBA and the Law Society to promote amendments to certain important legislation, including the Companies Law and the Exempted Limited Partnership Law. The Mutual Funds Law has also been under review.
‘It is critical that Cayman maintains it competitive edge. This requires a constant and ongoing review of our legislation to ensure that our financial industry is able to provide the products and services required by the international markets. Cayman is a leader in this respect and we must continue to maintain our competitive edge in the face of ever increasing competition from other jurisdictions.’
Courts space and new courts
Mr. Panton said he has been asked to comment on the need for certain specific courts with relevant expertise.
‘A family court is one such proposal which has been mentioned on prior similar occasions. I understand that family cases tend to be more complex today because of multinational parties generating international custody issues for example.
‘Another court which we would propose is a specific commercial court… (which) would promote specialisation and increasing consistency and certainty. This would complement the ever more complex commercial business which is conducted through this jurisdiction.’
Cabinet grants of Status
In 2003, the CBA applied for and obtained conditional leave to judicially review the Cabinets actions in this respect.
The decision to pursue this course of action was not taken lightly and was entirely in keeping with the objects of the CBA, objects which were crafted by many of the most senior members of the bar today, Mr. Panton emphasised.
He curtailed his remarks after Chief Justice Anthony Smellie reminded him of his own observation that it was not appropriate to go into details, as the matter was at least technically still before the court.
Mr. Panton continued briefly, then concluded with his remarks about the erosion of principles.