Unnamed Cayman Islands law firms are accused of “intentionally ignoring and deliberately circumventing” both the Legal Practitioners Law and Immigration Law, in a private members’ motion filed with the Legislative Assembly.
In addition, the firms are alleged to have potentially committed criminal offenses by conspiring to defeat the enforcement of those laws, according to the motion.
The motion, filed by East End MLA Arden McLean and supported by George Town MLA Winston Connolly, also alleges that Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton has a “glaring conflict of interest” in seeking to pass an updated version of the Legal Practitioners Law, which, they claim, will seek to legitimize the firms’ current questionable practices.
Asked to comment on the motion ahead of the Legislative Assembly debate on it, Minister Panton said he viewed it as “an attack on our financial services industry.”
“These two MLAs are not only wrong in law, but wrong in principle as well,” Mr. Panton said. “Their actions are grossly irresponsible when international perception is critical to our continued success as a country.
“This motion is an attack on our financial services industry and an example of personal political agendas being placed ahead of the interests of thousands of Caymanians in the industry and, in fact, given the significance to our economy, the interests of the country as a whole.”
Both the current draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill, as well as the private members’ motion alleging potential breaches of the law, are on the Legislative Assembly’s agenda for its meeting which began Wednesday. Neither item was expected to be heard this week.
The Cayman Islands Law Society noted in a statement to the Cayman Compass late Thursday that its members “strongly object to the allegations of any breaches of the laws of the Cayman Islands.
“We are concerned that this motion is simply a means of diverting attention from the merits of the Legal Practitioners Bill,” the statement read.
The text of the motion states that “public utterances and letters written by local practitioners to both the Minister of Financial Services and to this Legislative Assembly, which letters have identified … a number of flaws with regards the process being employed by the government, including the existence of an alleged glaring conflict of interest with regards to the said minister who is stewarding this bill ….
“It appears that there are a number of law firms in the Cayman Islands that are and have been for a number of years intentionally ignoring and deliberately circumventing section 10 of the Legal Practitioners Law (2015 Revision) so as to allow a large number of persons who are not qualified as attorneys-at-law to hold themselves out as such and to practice as qualified Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners in offices outside the jurisdiction, which offices are either owned and controlled by, or affiliated with, those Cayman law firms.”
The motion also states that the minister, Mr. Panton, “himself is a former managing partner” of one of the firms, alleging that this is the reason for his conflict of interest.
The motion makes further accusations: “There have also been numerous allegations of a somewhat similar nature with regards to breaches of section 51 of the Immigration Law with regards to the promotion and re-designation of positions of lawyers within the same firms, in apparent breach of the Immigration Law.”
These “activities” as described in the motion have a “deleterious impact on the economy of these islands by allowing the firms involved to avoid the payment of all government fees associated with licensure and work permitting of Cayman Legal Practitioners, as well as depriving the economy of all of the other attendant economic benefits that would come from such persons having to be properly licensed and located within the jurisdiction.”
The conspiracy allegation made by the motion states that a number of partners and principals in the law firms are “acting in unison” to avoid these laws. The motion alleges that the same firms have invested heavily in trying to pass the latest version of the Legal Practitioners Law without disclosing the structure and nature of their overseas practices.
“It appears that a number of partners and/or principals of the relevant firms have conspired together with others to prevent and/or defeat the execution or enforcement of the Legal Practitioners Law and/or the Immigration Law,” the motion states.
“It appears that a prima facie [at first appearance] case could be made out for prosecution under Section 322 of the Penal Code of all partners and principals and other participating persons in these law firms who conspired with one another to defeat the execution of the said laws.”
The motion seeks for the government to direct the attorney general and director of public prosecutions to “take all necessary actions and investigations” and, depending on what those investigations reveal “to take the appropriate actions against any and all offenders.”
The law society statement went on to praise the merits of the current draft of the Legal Practitioners Bill.
“The bill brings the framework governing Cayman’s legal profession into the modern era and must be passed in order for the Cayman Islands to comply with current international best practice.
“The bill also lays a solid foundation of opportunity for current and future generations of Caymanians.
“It has the backing of the vast majority of the members of the Cayman Islands Law Society and the Caymanian Bar Association and we encourage all members of the Legislative Assembly to support the bill.”