Government tries again with lawyers bill

With an international anti-money laundering review looming next year, Cayman Islands lawmakers will try one more time to pass modern regulatory legislation for the legal profession.

At least four attempts to significantly amend the Legal Practitioners Bill in the past 15 years have failed, most recently following complaints from the financial services industry that the updated legislation would hurt attempts to expand business overseas.

Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said Cayman’s major professional organizations for attorneys, the Caymanian Bar Association and the Cayman Islands Law Society, collaborated with government on the bill, allowing it to “come closer to passage than ever before.”

The bill is expected to be debated during the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly, set to start in early October.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said passage of the revised law is critical to Cayman’s continued success in the offshore financial services industry.

“The failure to pass this legislation has been damaging to us, not only as a jurisdiction, but also to the interests of Caymanian lawyers,” he said.

The 126-page bill is partly aimed at addressing concerns around money laundering and terrorist financing identified by the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force, which is expected to make a return inspection in Cayman in the latter half of 2017. Next year’s review is expected to encompass not only the local financial services operation, but also other businesses that typically handle large sums of money, including real estate and precious metals dealers.

The Legal Practitioners Bill is one of several pieces of legislation that have either recently passed or which are due to be considered in October in preparation for the 2017 Financial Action Task Force review. Minister Panton said the lawyers bill will demonstrate the local legal profession’s adherence to the task force anti-money laundering recommendations.

The legislation creates a new regulatory body for local lawyers, called the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association. This is envisioned as an industry “self-regulator” with eight attorneys appointed as members. Five of those members must be Caymanian.

If the bill is passed, the association will be responsible for promotion and training of Caymanian attorneys. It also must ensure all attorneys practicing in the Cayman Islands are suitably qualified.

The bill also creates a separate business staffing plan regime for locally operating law firms, including rules that seek to ensure Caymanian lawyers are “properly considered” for promotions.

Cayman Islands Law Society President Alasdair Robertson said his organization would support the bill, which is badly needed to bring the local legal profession into the modern era.