Lawyers bill review to continue in private

Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly members will meet privately starting Monday afternoon in attempts to reach a compromise on the much-debated controversial Legal Practitioners Bill.

The “in-camera” [meaning a private meeting in chambers which the public cannot attend] session of the House is set to start at 3 p.m. The suggestion of holding the session in camera was proposed last month by Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush to try and work out stark differences among lawmakers on the current draft proposal. Premier Alden McLaughlin said he would be willing to take such a step, but members of the assembly’s independent opposition group did not support the move.

As of Friday, the Progressives-led government and opposition assembly members had proposed more than 150 amendments to the legislation, which is already more than 120 pages. Successive governments have tried at least five times in the past 15 years to redraft the Legal Practitioners Bill.

“My objective is to succeed where two previous administrations have failed by giving the Cayman Islands a modern Legal Practitioners Law,” Premier McLaughlin said. “This must be a law that regulates the legal profession, supports and promotes the wide range of legal services provided by Cayman practitioners and encourages employment, training and opportunities for advancement of Caymanian attorneys.”

Mr. McLaughlin said it appears all House members, including Mr. Bush’s party and independent opposition members, have the same objective.

“I have again invited all members to sit down in private on Monday to endeavor to reach consensus on the key provisions of the bill before resuming formal debate on the floor of the House on Tuesday,” the premier continued. “All members have agreed.”

The battle over the legislation reached fever pitch last week as Cayman’s major legal associations pushed for passage.

According to a statement from the Cayman Islands Law Society: “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.”

In contrast, some Caymanian attorneys wrote angry letters to lawmakers urging them not to support the current plan, claiming it would serve to do just the opposite.

One letter, written by resigning Maples attorney Anna Goubault, was read in the assembly last week by George Town MLA Winston Connolly: “The Cayman Islands Law Society and Cayman Finance have sought to cast the independent MLAs as causing unreasonable and harmful disruption. The alternative perspective is that firms such as Maples are ignoring their existing legal obligations and have put forward draft legislation that is so unbalanced that people with a proper understanding of these matters feel it necessary to raise issue.”

Ms. Goubault’s letter recounted her experiences in being passed over for promotion from firm associate to salary partner for two consecutive years for various reasons. One of those reasons, she said, is that she had threatened to resign from the firm if she was not made a salaried partner. Meanwhile, her letter stated, non-Caymanian associate lawyers who had less experience at the firm were promoted over her.

Local law firm partner Sharon Roulstone also wrote letter to assembly members recounting her earlier experiences working at an unnamed firm as an associate. “I witnessed many Caymanians being held down professionally …. [I can] say with complete confidence that this was due to the fact that our only real failings were that we were Caymanians. Some partners even went so far as to expressly say so and I was, in fact, verbally assaulted by a senior equity partner as being a “f***ing ignorant Caymanian.’”

Opposition Leader Bush pushed for compromise on the legislation during his parliamentary debate, acknowledging that he was very aware that Caymanian lawyers had been discriminated against in the local legal profession. “These abuses and discrimination have been documented,” he said.

However, he said the territory should also guard against ultra-nationalist paths that had damaged another Caribbean jurisdiction during the 1960s.

“That country is still reeling from the flight of capital and businesses back then,” Mr. Bush said. “We need not believe that it can’t happen here.

“Cayman is not the only girl at the ball,” he said. [The belief that] if I can’t have it, then nobody else can have it, that’s not so.”

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