Next battle brews in lawyers bill debate

Education Minister Tara Rivers objects to Wednesday's emergency meeting of the Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly due to non-attendance of government members. - Photo: Brent Fuller

Progressives-led administration officials have confirmed the government still intends to bring a revised draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill to the Legislative Assembly at its next meeting.

However, they have not said what form the revision to the controversial proposal will take, whether the legislation would be entirely rewritten or amended during the committee stage of the proceedings based on the bill that was presented and then withdrawn in October last year.

Meanwhile, independent candidates are considering a second “road show” in the coming weeks to tour the districts, as they did late last year, the Cayman Compass has learned.

“We’re waiting to see that they do,” Bodden Town MLA Alva Suckoo said. “If they bring [a bill] as concerning as the last one, we’ll have to take some action.”

Premier Alden McLaughlin said he has already given up on the independent members supporting the proposal, whatever form it arrives in during the next meeting of the Legislative Assembly.

“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 in December. “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.”

The legislative meeting was initially scheduled for the second week in January, but was expected to be pushed back, possibly into February.

Opposition, support

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

RELATED LETTER: Defending the Legal Practitioners Bill 

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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. Mr. Panton has not responded to repeated questions from the Compass regarding the lawyers’ proposal.

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’ 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 states. Four local attorneys – Sammy Jackson, Selena Tibbetts, Anthony Akiwumi and Vaughan Carter – were listed as authors of the letter.

Old debate

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 Legal Practitioners Bill is essentially meant 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 that attorneys are suitably qualified. The bill also sought to create a separate business staffing plan regime for local law firms.

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 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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