Another attempt to pass modern regulatory standards for Cayman Islands lawyers ahead of an international financial review failed Tuesday as the Progressives-led administration agreed to push back a vote on the Legal Practitioners Bill (2016) until the next Legislative Assembly meeting is held, possibly in January.
The delay in passing the legislation – which successive governments have tried to accomplish now at least five times in the past 15 years – was attributed to pressure from certain interests in the local legal fraternity, as well as requests from opposition lawmakers.
“We have engaged in discussion with interested parties who have asked for some additional time to provide further comment,” Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said. “It seems that everyone understands the significance and necessity of this bill.”
“This government is interested in ensuring we have the views as wide as possible from the community and the key stakeholders,” the minister continued. “We’ve had complete support from the two professional bodies that represent this industry.”
The crux of the dispute over the current bill 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.
“We have engaged in discussion with interested parties who have asked for some additional time to provide further comment.”
Opposition to the legislation among Caymanian attorneys has been building over the past few weeks since the bill was made public. On Monday, legislators received a letter from local attorney Sammy Jackson stating concerns about “mounting resistance” to the proposal.
“The government has kept this draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill away from public scrutiny, and has yet chosen to so bravely defend its position to only give us seemingly unimportant small local firms and sole practitioners, as well as the public in general – including its own colleagues in parliament – nothing but the bare minimum required amount of time to peruse, analyze and comment on this bill,” Mr. Jackson wrote.
“Understandably, resistance has been mounting, as more of us find the time to read this bill and build the nerve to take on the government in its shameful initiative to railroad through a brand new piece of legislation which they themselves (or at least some of them) tout as being so important to our profession and, more importantly (for them), our financial services industry.”
Concerns about this bill being “rushed through” the House were also expressed during a Thursday night public meeting in George Town. However, Minister Panton and Abraham Thoppil, the president of the Caymanian Bar Association, noted that reviews with the bill had been ongoing for at least the past six months and the vast majority of the Bar Association and Cayman Islands Law Society members supported it.
More than 75 percent of the representatives from both professional organizations said earlier this month that they would support the changes in the bill.
Following Mr. Panton’s announcement about the bill being delayed, the five members of the independent opposition in the Legislative Assembly congratulated the government on what they called its “about face” on the bill.
“I am delighted the government has finally come to its senses and put a stop to this disastrous bill,” East End MLA Arden McLean said. “This bill in its current form will only serve to further disenfranchise Caymanian lawyers and continue to keep Caymanians out of the upper echelons of the legal industry.”
Mr. McLean also congratulated Mr. Jackson and former [*] Maples associate Selina Tibbetts, who stepped forward to critique the legislation publicly, something he and other lawmakers said local attorneys were afraid to do.
Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush asked the government to form a select committee of lawmakers to help review changes to the bill before the next legislative meeting, but Mr. Bush’s motion was not entertained on Tuesday.
[*] Editor’s note: Story changed to reflect that Selina Tibbetts is a former associate of the Maples law firm.