Minister: No new draft of lawyers bill

Although the Cayman Islands government still intends to pass a version of the controversial Legal Practitioners Bill, it will not propose entirely rewritten legislation for this month’s Legislative Assembly meeting.

Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton told the Cayman Compass Tuesday that the same bill proposed during the assembly’s October 2016 session will be brought back for a vote during the meeting that starts Feb. 22. Mr. Panton said a number of amendments will be proposed during the committee-stage review of the legislation.

The Legal Practitioners Bill brought to the Legislative Assembly in October was 126 pages. The government is not required to publish any of the changes it intends to make before the amendments are heard in the assembly committee review.

Mr. Panton said Tuesday that extensive behind-the-scenes consultations have been going on with legal industry stakeholders on the bill, which seeks to modernize the 1969 legislation that governs the practice of law in Cayman. He said many of the changes suggested by stakeholders who participated in the review have been added to the bill.

He also said the government attempted to include some issues addressed by bill critics who had “not cooperated in the review” of the legislation.

The Progressives-led administration’s decision to withdraw the bill in October was attributed to pressure from certain interests in the legal fraternity, as well as requests from opposition lawmakers. Successive governments have failed to pass an updated Legal Practitioners Law at least five times in the last 15 years.

“We have engaged in discussion with interested parties who have asked for some additional time to provide further comment,” Minister Panton said late last year. “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. We’ve had complete support from the two professional bodies that represent this industry.”

More than 75 percent of the representatives from the Caymanian Bar Association and the Cayman Islands Law Society said they would support the changes in the bill.

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.

Opposition to the legislation among Caymanian attorneys has been building since the latest draft of the bill was made public last year. Legislators received a letter from attorney Sammy Jackson stating concerns about “mounting resistance” to the proposal in October, which stressed what Mr. Jackson said was a lack of transparency in relation to the plan.

“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.”

The Legal Practitioners Bill seeks 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 seeks 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.

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