Number of criminal defense attorneys in Cayman increases

Court statistics do not tell the whole story

Taking part in the bar call for two defense attorneys are, from left, David McGrath, Gregory Burke, Justice Alastair Malcolm, Oliver Grimwood and Richard Barton. - PHOTO: CAROL WINKER

When two new attorneys join the ranks of 744 other attorneys, the net increase is less than three-tenths of 1 percent.

But when those new attorneys join the small group practising criminal defense in Cayman, that increase works out to more than 7 percent.

Gregory George Burke and Oliver James Grimwood are not new legal practitioners: they have more than 30 years of experience between them. But they are new locally, having been called to the Bar of the Cayman Islands on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Justice Alastair Malcolm presided at the formal court ceremony in which attorney David McGrath moved the admission of Mr. Burke and attorney Richard Barton set out the qualifications of Mr. Grimwood.

Justice Malcolm welcomed both men and said he had no doubt that other members of the bar would assist them and they in turn would be great assets. The judge said he knew the Cayman bar well, since he had been coming to this jurisdiction for 17 years.

Seventeen years ago or so, the number of attorneys licensed to practice in Cayman was less than a third of what it is today. There were 227 names on the roll of attorneys in the year 2000; 235 in 2001. When Mr. Burke and Mr. Grimwood signed their names in the official register, they became numbers 745 and 746 in a list that includes Crown counsel and other attorneys attached to government departments.

But if a list were made of attorneys in the private sector, and then a sub-list of those who do criminal defense work, their ranking would be much higher. An informal count of attorneys who currently appear in criminal cases on a regular basis brings to mind only 12 names. Senior attorney Lloyd Samson, deputy chairman of the dormant Criminal Bar Defence Association, has agreed that at its most active, the group consisted of just 10 to 12 members.

There are 13 to 15 other attorneys whose practice includes civil and family matters, so their criminal case work tends to be on an occasional basis. The total number of lawyers doing criminal defense is therefore about 27.

An officer at the Prisoner Detention Center at Fairbanks confirmed this week that there is a list of 25 attorneys who can be contacted when individuals are arrested and want legal advice. Those numbers mirror the situation 17 years ago, when approximately 25 attorneys were doing criminal defense work regularly or occasionally.

So if fewer than 30 attorneys appear in criminal cases, what are almost 700 others doing? Alasdair Robertson, president of the Cayman Islands Law Society in 2014, answered that question when he noted that the largest component of attorneys provides legal services in the financial sector.

At the opening of Grand Court that year, he pointed out that “the financial services sector is the single biggest contributor to the economy of the Cayman Islands and represents 49 percent of the Gross National Product. The industry further generates 55 percent of the revenue of government.”

The complexities of commercial cases had already been recognized with the establishment of the Financial Services Division of the Grand Court in 2009. In 2016, 225 cases were filed in this division, with another 250 filed in the Civil Division (including Admiralty) plus Family and Estate matters for a total of 891 cases. Civil matters at the Summary Court level totaled 321, with another 142 maintenance and affiliation matters.

These statistics are from the Judicial Administration website, which shows the numbers for both civil and criminal matters over the years.

In the year 2000, there were 917 criminal cases in Summary Court and 4,380 in Traffic Court. For 2016, the last year for which complete numbers are available, those numbers had risen to 1,451 criminal cases and 6,886 traffic cases.

Criminal appeals from Summary Court to Grand Court totaled 59 in 2000, 37 in 2016. There were 79 indictments filed in Grand Court in 2000. In 2016, that number had increased to 121.

Criminal appeals from Grand Court to the Cayman Islands Court of Appeal totaled 54 in 2000 and never reached that number since, with 35 cases in 2016.

Numbers, of course, do not tell the whole story. Since 2000, court resources have been stretched to provide a rehabilitative approach to unlawful behaviors. The Drug Rehabilitation Court, established by law in October 2007, deals with a range of defendants, who usually need more than one year to successfully complete the program. There are also informal programs for individuals charged with offenses of violence in a domestic context, an informal mental health court and a course offered before sentencing to people who plead guilty to driving under the influence of alcohol.

Of course, not every defendant facing a criminal or traffic charge wants or needs an attorney. For those who do, there are both large firms and sole practitioners they can consult.

Mr. McGrath is the managing partner of the firm McGrath Tonner, which now has eight attorneys with the addition of Mr. Burke. Mr. McGrath introduced Mr. Burke to the court by noting that his work had been largely of a common law nature and would hopefully continue to be criminal and legal aid work in Cayman.

Mr. Burke was admitted as a solicitor in England and Wales in 1999, practicing in the Midlands. He became a partner in the firm of Rogers and Co. in Wolverhampton in 2007 and served as managing partner from 2012 to 2017. His principal areas of expertise are criminal defense and business regulation.

In contrast, Mr. Barton preferred to work on his own until the recent decision to take on an associate. “There is an increasing demand in our practice for the need to represent more serious crimes in the Grand Court and to appear in the Court of Appeal. Mr. Grimwood’s experience will offer diversity in this regard and we are optimistic about his ability to enhance the existing complements at the criminal bar as well,” he explained.

He introduced Mr. Grimwood as “a counsel’s counsel, a friend, and someone I highly respect in the law.” Mr. Grimwood was called to the bar of England and Wales in 2002 and is a member of the Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn. His first area of expertise covers business crime, fraud, bribery and corruption, money laundering, proceeds of crime matters and asset forfeiture. The other area of his practice has included serious violent crime, sexual and drug offenses, robbery, kidnapping and blackmail.

He and Mr. Burke have joined a select group, whose most senior members still active include Steve McField, called to the bar in 1977; Peter Polack, 1983; John Furniss, 1986; and Graham Hampson, 1987. The local veterans can assist the newcomers, while the newcomers can bring fresh perspectives on developments in English law, just as Justice Malcolm suggested.

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