Bush: Caymanian attorneys afraid to speak out on lawyers bill

Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush in the Legislative Assembly chamber in early 2016.

There is significant opposition to the government’s latest attempt to amend working rules for local lawyers, but it is being stifled due to fear, Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush said this week.

Mr. Bush said a number of Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly members had received private communications from lawyers who oppose the 126-page amended draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill. One attorney wrote to all 18 assembly members Monday asking them not to approve the changes, he said.

“It has also been reported to me that a number of Caymanian lawyers are not speaking out … due to real or perceived fear/intimidation from the firms they work for,” Mr. Bush said.

The opposition leader said that while he agrees changes are needed to a law that took effect in 1969, not least to comply with international anti-money laundering standards, attempts to “rush this bill through” the assembly would “do wrong” to current and future lawyers.

Mr. Bush requested that the government defer consideration of the bill until early December in order to obtain more feedback from local attorneys. He said he would not vote for the bill in its current form.

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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.”

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

However, Mr. Bush has questioned whether the government’s collaboration has gone past merely speaking to a few leading members of the associations to address the concerns of Caymanian lawyers who are on the lower rungs of the corporate ladder.

“While there have been a number of surveys conducted by the Caymanian Bar Association, there seems to be a clear lack of probity in representing such statements to government, when in fact the membership has not had an opportunity to comment,” Mr. Bush said.

The 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 of 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 this month 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’s 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 whom 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 local law firms, including rules that seek to ensure Caymanian lawyers are “properly considered” for promotions.

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