Senior members of the legal profession urged the passage of the controversial Legal Practitioners Bill during the formal opening of court for 2017 on Wednesday.
Alasdair Robertson, the head of the Law Society, and Abraham Thoppil, president of the Caymanian Bar Association, used their speeches to express emphatic support for the legislation.
Their comments were supported by Chief Justice Anthony Smellie, who said he was pleased to hear of progress on the bill. “It is long overdue … the profession has to compete in what has become a global economy,” he said.
The most recent draft of the bill goes back before the Legislative Assembly at the next sitting. It was pulled from the agenda last year at the last minute for a fresh round of amendments after complaints from a number of local attorneys.
Mr. Robertson said Wednesday that the latest draft was the best of the numerous versions that have been produced over the past 15 years.
He said the legal profession had grown from 20 practicing attorneys when the original bill was passed in 1970 to more than 500 today, including more than 200 in Cayman, handling increasingly complex international cases. Mr. Robertson, global managing partner at Maples and Calder, said major international firms employ the vast majority of Caymanian lawyers and support staff.
He said the 2016 version of the bill provided a “balance between protectionism and the need to compete globally.”
He said it would secure and enhance opportunities for Caymanian lawyers while keeping control of the practice of law overseas within the Cayman Islands.
Mr. Thoppil added his own endorsement of the bill, which he said promises a “new era” for the profession. “I can now congratulate government on grasping the nettle and presenting a bill that the CBA can support.”
He said past discussions on the bill had been hampered by “ill-informed debate,” sometimes from people who had neither read it nor understood what it proposed.
He said the bill would not fix all issues facing Caymanian lawyers and said more needs to be done to support their advancement.
“The CBA has long been concerned about the lack of opportunity for Caymanian litigators to gain experience and progress,” he said.
He added that this was aggravated by an “increasing dependence” on the English Bar and the use of video conferencing to allow lawyers in the U.K. to do work that could be done locally. He highlighted a recent case where the parties had requested their counsel to appear by video link from overseas.
“This is symptomatic of a mindset here and in London. Not so gradually, that scenario is becoming commonplace and, unless challenged, it may become the norm. This is a public policy issue that will have to be addressed in the near future.”
Several local lawyers still oppose the Legal Practitioners Bill, believing it will marginalize Caymanian lawyers.
Four local attorneys – Sammy Jackson, Selena Tibbetts, Anthony Akiwumi and Vaughan Carter – wrote to Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton last year to highlight concerns about the bill and to indicate that neither the Cayman Law Society nor the Caymanian Bar Association spoke for them when they endorsed the draft.