Lawyers bill changes set for Friday

Controversial changes to the law that governs the operation of Cayman Islands lawyers and law firms are expected to be reviewed by the Legislative Assembly on Friday.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said late Wednesday that the government had filed a number of proposed amendments to the plan and wanted to give opposition party and independent members time to study them before they are considered.

Mr. McLaughlin also indicated that assembly members could consider some of the changes privately Friday before going into the open committee that would ratify the amendments.

The current version of the Legal Practitioners Bill, which lawmakers passed unanimously last week, will face wholesale changes in the legislative committee that will review it before a final vote on the measure.

Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton said one of the proposed changes seeks to guarantee majority Caymanian ownership of all local firms.

“Over the next 15 years, we want to see the majority of Caymanians being engaged as owners, controllers of Cayman Islands law firms,” Mr. Panton said. “That is a very significant step and one that we don’t take lightly.”

The specific wording of the amended bill was released late Wednesday to opposition members, but it is still uncertain whether that proposal will be the final wording of the changes. Mr. Panton said the Caymanian ownership requirement would likely be similar to the Local Companies (Control) License regime, which requires 60 percent Caymanian ownership of any locally operating company.

Another change Minister Panton announced included amending the membership of the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association council, which will effectively oversee local law firms. The eight-person council, according to the proposed amendments, will be 100 percent Caymanian and Cabinet will have some selection power over the otherwise self-regulating body.

Opposition lawmakers have provisionally supported the legislation, with the caveat that they have not yet agreed to the amendments government has proposed.

The Progressives-led government has a slim majority in the assembly and could force through the changes it wants to the bill, even if opposition members disagree.

A private members’ motion alleging various instances of law-breaking by Finance Minister Wayne Panton and unnamed local law firms in relation to Legal Practitioners Bill matters has not been heard yet by the assembly. It was filed by MLAs Arden McLean and Winston Connolly who were opponents of the original bill.

Parliament is scheduled to be dissolved on Tuesday, March 28, ahead of the May general election.

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