Last-minute meeting called over lawyers bill

A snap public meeting has been called for Thursday night over the controversial Legal Practitioners Bill, just days before the legislation was expected to come before parliament for a vote.

Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said Tuesday that the Progressives-led government still expects to bring the 126-page amendment bill for a vote during the current meeting of the Legislative Assembly, which will run through next week.

The public meeting is set for Thursday between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. at the Family Life Centre in George Town with Minister Panton and representatives of Cayman’s two major professional lawyers’ associations present.

“[They] will explain how the bill promotes and protects the interests of Caymanian lawyers, while also addressing international compliance standards,” a statement from the ministry indicated.

The new draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill has been the most hotly debated item now before the Legislative Assembly and lawmakers were initially expected to take it up sometime this week. It is likely, since the public meeting is being held on Thursday night, that the bill will have to wait until at least next week.

“[They] will explain how the bill promotes and protects the interests of Caymanian lawyers, while also addressing international compliance standards.”

More than 75 percent of the members of Cayman’s two major lawyers associations recently urged lawmakers to approve the Legal Practitioners Bill, seeking to update a regulatory code for the legal profession that dates to the 1960s.

The Cayman Islands Law Society has said more than 80 percent of its members back the legislation, while the Caymanian Bar Association said that 77 percent of its member firms and sole practitioners have also agreed to support the current legislation.

Meanwhile, opposition legislators said that they have fielded numerous calls and messages from Caymanian lawyers who oppose the plan but are too afraid to speak out for fear of retribution by their employers.

Lawmakers have tried on at least three occasions to revise the lawyers’ bill within the past decade, but all previous attempts have failed for lack of support.

The crux of the dispute centers on law firms that wish to expand their presence in overseas financial services markets to remain competitive in what has become a global industry, on the one hand, and on the other hand, Caymanian-born attorneys who fear they will be left behind in that expansion and believe that globalization will lead to outsourcing.

The legislation is considered critical in preparing Cayman for the mid-2017 Caribbean Financial Action Task Force review of the islands’ protections against money laundering and terrorism financing.

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