Premier hopes to pass lawyers bill in final legislative meeting

The Progressives-led government will try again to pass an updated Legal Practitioners Bill in what is likely to be the government’s final Legislative Assembly meeting of its current term, Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed last week.

“I’m hopeful we can get most lawyers to a point where they believe the bill is … in the best interests of Caymanian lawyers in particular.”

The controversial bill – which government has failed to approve in at least four attempts over the past 15 years – was pulled from the legislature’s agenda at the last minute in October after complaints from a number of local attorneys.

The next meeting, scheduled for the second week in January, will be the final meeting of the administration before the dissolution of parliament set for March 29, 2017, Mr. McLaughlin said.

Premier McLaughlin, a lawyer by trade, said he was determined to approve the lawyers bill despite opposition from political detractors.

“We’ll never get the likes of [East End MLA] Arden [McLean], [North Side MLA] Ezzard [Miller] and [George Town MLA] Winston Connolly to support this bill,” he said. “But I’m hopeful we can get most lawyers to a point where they believe the bill is … in the best interests of Caymanian lawyers in particular.”

A group of Caymanian lawyers who opposed the latest version of the bill wrote to Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton last week urging the government to abandon the current draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill and instead revert to a draft written in 2013.

The proposal was circulated to lawmakers in the waning days of the interim People’s National Alliance administration before the May 2013 general election, but never made it to the House floor.

Representatives of the Cayman Islands Law Society said at the time that the 2013 version of the bill would have significant negative impacts on the expansion of Cayman-based law firms’ overseas operations and their competitiveness in the global financial services industry.

Both the Law Society and the Caymanian Bar Association, the two largest lawyers’ representative groups in Cayman, supported the 2016 draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill, with more than 75 percent of their memberships asking lawmakers to approve it.

“It is a widely held view that neither organization now represents the interests of the entire profession and that both are, to all intents and purposes, dominated by the larger, multi-jurisdictional offshore law firms and their discrete interests,” the letter to Minister Panton read. Four local attorneys – Sammy Jackson, Selena Tibbetts, Anthony Akiwumi and Vaughan Carter – were listed as authors of the letter.

The Legal Practitioners Bill is essentially an attempt to modernize the practice of law in the Cayman Islands, in part to comply with internationally accepted anti-money laundering and terrorist financing rules. The current law that governs lawyers operating in the jurisdiction took effect in 1969.

The latest draft sought to create a new self-regulatory body called the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association, with eight attorneys appointed as members, five of whom must be Caymanian. The association was to be responsible for promotion and training of Caymanian attorneys and ensuring all attorneys practicing in Cayman are suitably qualified.

The bill also sought to create a separate business staffing plan regime for local law firms, including rules that seek to ensure Caymanian lawyers are “properly considered” for promotions, including in law firms’ overseas operations.

Legislation governing the practice of law and lawyers’ conduct is considered critical to prepare for the mid-2017 Caribbean Financial Action Task Force review of the Cayman Islands’ protections against money laundering and terrorism financing.

The dispute over the latest draft of the bill centered on law firms that want to expand their presence in overseas financial services markets 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.

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