Cayman Islands politicians argued Wednesday over who penned the draft of the controversial Legal Practitioners Bill, as the clock continued to tick on the final meeting of the current parliament.
Legislators have until March 28 to resolve all remaining issues before the Legislative Assembly. More than 20 bills remain on the agenda.
Late Tuesday, several government ministers spoke in favor of the Legal Practitioners Bill, indicating that an amended form of the bill would be approved in the coming days.
The bill seeks sweeping changes to a nearly 50-year-old law that regulates the operations of attorneys and law firms within Cayman.
Supporters have said changes are necessary to meet international standards for the financial services industry and to stop the practice of rogue firms outside the islands profiting from the practice of Cayman Islands law. Opponents say the bill merely cements the “status quo” system which has prevented Caymanian attorneys from advancing in the profession.
The precise wording of the legislation will not be known until lawmakers finish plowing through nearly 200 amendments proposed for the bill. Those changes will be debated after legislators vote on the initial plan. A final vote on the amended bill would be taken after all changes are made.
Debate on the bill stalled again Wednesday, as a parliamentary question concerning how the legislation was written was asked by East End MLA Arden McLean.
Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said the Progressives government caucus, a group of elected members and political party officials, received two presentations on the bill from representatives of the Cayman Islands Law Society and the Caymanian Bar Association, which it used to create a “joint position paper” that was given to a legislative draftsman. That legal draftsman, a former government employee, then used the paper to inform his draft of the bill, Mr. Panton said.
The legal draftsman was not paid by government, the minister said. He said he assumed the man had been paid by the lawyers associations.
“Is the minster saying … the executive of this country doesn’t know how this work was paid for or how it was conducted? Is that his answer?” Mr. McLean asked.
Mr. Panton said the bill was prepared in accordance with the government’s drafting instructions and “ultimately signed off for presentation in the House.” Mr. Panton said the drafting process was “not improper in any way.” Premier Alden McLaughlin added that the practice of “outsourcing” legislative drafting has been used from time to time by the assembly.
“It was felt that if we were going to get it done, in time … it would require dedicated legal draftsmen to deal with the matter,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “Had we not adopted that [approach], the bill would not have reached this House.”
A number of government ministers who had been silent on the Legal Practitioners Bill debate spoke out Tuesday afternoon, giving the impression that the bill had more support within government than was previously believed.
“We cannot get away from the fact that [financial services] is the quintessential industry of globalization,” Education Minister Tara Rivers said. “If we are to stay competitive … we must be able, as a jurisdiction, to practice our law in … multiple jurisdictions.”
Currently, it is believed about 200 lawyers are employed by local law firms and practice Cayman law overseas as part of those operations. Those firms with a substantial business presence in Cayman should be supported in that practice, Minister Rivers said – as long as they play by the rules the new bill will create.
“By licensing and regulating the practice of Cayman Islands law overseas … this is not a new phenomenon,” she said. “It is what is done as it relates to New York law, as it relates to U.K. law, as it relates to Canadian law.
“We, as a country, cannot take a myopic view to say we can only practice the law of the Cayman Islands in the Cayman Islands. We will lose business. And losing business translates to loss of jobs.”
Deputy Premier Moses Kirkconnell opined that it was the creation of “overly nationalistic” law in the Bahamas during the 1960s and early 1970s that has typically been blamed for driving away that country’s banking industry – an event which Cayman capitalized on, he said.
“The proposed new legislation has been turned into a contentious issue and has been turned into the subject of negative media attention,” Mr. Kirkconnell said. “Damage has been done, and is currently taking place.
“Concern is already building in London over what is occurring here. [There is] little we can do to reverse the consequences once the damage is done.”