The Legislative Assembly approved a bill that amended several laws as a result of the merger of the Caymanian Bar Association with the Cayman Islands Law Society.
The memberships of the Bar Association and the Law Society approved a plan in June, under which a new body, the Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association, will assume the functions previously undertaken by the organizations.
As a result of the merger, it had become necessary to recognize the new entity legislatively by replacing references to the old organizations, Attorney General Samuel Bulgin said in the Legislative Assembly on Wednesday.
The amendments covered the composition of the Legal Advisory Council, which until now included the heads of the Bar Association and the Law Society. Under new rules, they will be replaced by two attorneys with more than 10 years of experience in front of the bar nominated by the head of Cayman Islands Legal Practitioners Association, or alternatively by one such attorney and the head of the association.
Other changes enable Cabinet, after consultation with the new association’s council, to make regulations for the provision of continuing legal education and practical training for lawyers. This would include continuing training and education in anti-money laundering and the combating of terrorism financing.
Mr. Bulgin said, “A natural corollary of these amendments will be the ability of the government to designate CILPA as a self-regulatory body for attorneys for the purposes of anti-money laundering and related matters” in much the same way the Cayman Islands Institute of Professional Accountants carries out that function for the accounting profession.
This was of particular importance, the attorney general said, because reviews of Cayman’s anti-money laundering framework had repeatedly identified areas of practice by attorneys that remain unregulated for anti-money laundering purposes.
Designating the Cayman Islands Law Practitioners Association as a self-regulatory body in the Proceeds of Crime Law and the Anti-Money Laundering Regulations will capture all legal practice fields and address the criticism, he said.
The bill was opposed by Deputy Opposition Leader Alva Suckoo and East End MLA Arden McLean, who accused the government of creating a back-door way of “controlling” the legal industry, after it had been forced to withdraw a revised Legal Practitioners Bill on previous occasions.
Mr. McLean said vested interests were trying to control the industry to the detriment of young Caymanian lawyers.
“What bothers me is that [those young Caymanian lawyers] have acquiesced,” he said, and claimed that they had voted for the merger at the direction of the “big law firms” and installed a “token Caymanian” as head of the new organization.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, a former president of the Caymanian Bar Association, said he fully understands that the motivation for the formation of the Bar Association was to further the interests of Caymanian lawyers. But he noted he was the first to suggest a merger with the Law Society.
“It has never served these islands well to have a divided profession especially divided on the basis of nationality,” he said. “The optics of it are terrible internationally and the politics of it are disastrous locally.”
The continued failure to “mend the Legal Practitioners Law for the best part of 20 years” was “a travesty,” the premier added.
The attorney general thanked the members for their “passionate debate of the bill and in some instances what was not before the house” rather than the narrow focus of the bill of establishing a framework dealing with anti-money laundering issues in the legal profession.
Mr. Bulgin emphasized that the two associations decided to merge without influence from the government.
“I don’t think that we are best placed in this house to advise 800 lawyers how they should conduct their affairs,” he said.