Concerned that government may walk back its earlier agreement on changes to the controversial Legal Practitioners Bill, members of the independent opposition on Friday fired a new salvo in the months-long battle over the legislation.
A slate of proposed amendments to the bill expected to put majority Caymanian ownership in place at all local law firms within 15 years were not heard Friday; they ended up being pushed back to Monday due to a number of other items on the legislative agenda.
One of those matters was a “personal explanation” statement by East End MLA Arden McLean in which he read a seven-page letter consisting of legal advice signed by Paul Garlick, QC, a London attorney.
The advice, which was read under parliamentary privilege in the Legislative Assembly, was requested from Mr. Garlick so that he could opine on whether certain alleged actions by local law firms in hiring overseas attorneys could amount to a breach of Cayman laws.
The first paragraph of the letter indicated that Mr. Garlick was asked to advise on the questions of whether certain law firms that employ an individual who is not properly admitted to practice Cayman law as per section 3 of the Legal Practitioners Law have committed a criminal offense.
“It is … a criminal conspiracy when two or more persons agree to prevent or defeat the execution or enforcement of any law or regulation,” the advice concludes, referring to section 322 of the Cayman Islands Penal Code. “In my opinion, the provisions of section 12(3) of the Legal Practitioners Law 2015 come within the definition of a ‘law or regulation’ and, therefore, an agreement between two or more persons to prevent or defeat the execution or enforcement of the provisions section 12(3) amounts to a criminal offense under section 322 of the Penal Code.
“In my opinion, the conduct set out in paragraph No. 1 of my advice necessarily involves preventing or defeating the execution or enforcement of section 12(3) and, therefore, amounts to a criminal conspiracy.”
The legal advice is at least partly contrary to advice received on the issue by Cayman Islands Attorney General Sam Bulgin, who attempted to speak Friday following Mr. McLean’s recital of the legal advice he had obtained. Mr. Bulgin was shut down by Speaker of the House Juliana O’Connor-Connolly, who cited parliamentary rules that prevent responses to members’ personal explanation statements.
The claim of illegality is essentially the same one made in a private members’ motion filed last month by Mr. McLean and George Town MLA Winston Connolly.
According to the text of that motion: “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.”
These allegations, again made under parliamentary protection, were denied by members of the Cayman Islands Law Society and by Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton, who called the motion “an attack on our financial services industry.”
The Law Society noted in a statement to the Cayman Compass 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.
Premier Alden McLaughlin has vowed that the bill will be dealt with before the end of the current Legislative Assembly, which is scheduled to be dissolved on Tuesday, ahead of the May 24 general election.