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Barbados Bar Association moving to crack down on theft by attorneys

November 29th, 2023 | Tags:
A press release submitted last week by the president, Kaye Williams, highlighted the new changes. Photo: Internet Source

BRIDGETOWN, Barbados - In an effort to deal more effectively with attorneys stealing from their clients, the Barbados Bar Association has submitted sweeping changes to the Legal Profession Act, which includes a rigorous process of auditing attorney’s client accounts as well as a more rigid disciplinary procedure.

In addition, attorneys would also have to submit to mandatory yearly training in order to receive their practicing certificates.

These are just a few of the new proposals which the Association has submitted for a revised Legal Profession Bill, as it continues to be dogged by instances of attorneys stealing thousands of dollars, from their clients.

They are hoping the new rules would come into effect next year.

A press release submitted last week by the president, Kaye Williams, highlighted the new changes.

“Attorneys will face a tough new legislative and regulatory framework in 2024 if the changes for which the Barbados Bar Association has been asking are passed in a revised Legal Profession Bill. The Barbados Bar Association has been informed by the Law Reform Commission that a draft Bill will be provided no later than January 2024.

“One such proposal includes imposing pre-requisites that have to be met every year in order to practice. Annual practising certificates are currently granted ‘as a matter of course’ when the yearly fees are paid to the Supreme Court. This can no longer continue,” the association stated, adding it would not be “business as usual to obtain that certificate”. 

“First, it is illegal for any attorney to practise law without a practising certificate and second, it will not be business as usual to obtain that certificate. Not only must members be subject each year to compulsory legal education training, the Barbados Bar Association has advocated for rigorous accounting rules which have to be met before any attorney can obtain their annual practising certificate. Every year, client accounts must be verified and audited and the reports certified and issued by accountants. There must be a legislative framework that not only provide for annual monitoring of client accounts, but also stiff penalties to ensure compliance,” the release stated.

It added: “Findings of theft from clients and related misconduct destroys the reputation of not only the profession but also Barbados as a business jurisdiction. The aim of the legislative provisions is to ensure that, each and every year, clients’ funds are safe and that clients’ accounts are in order before the issuance of a practising certificate to an attorney. The requirement for financial probity among attorneys is essential within the legal profession and indeed a requirement for the due administration of justice.”

In terms of the disciplinary committee, the association reiterated it was a separate body but pointed out that extensive changes would also be coming to the disciplinary process.

“Generally, the public is not aware that, under our current legislation, the disciplinary committee is a separate body to the Bar Association. That notwithstanding, the BBA has recommended extensive changes to entirely revamp the system of discipline in terms of its governance, size, composition, and powers. One proposal is that the current system of discipline needs to be replaced with an entirely new body led by a legally trained chairman, comprising of members of the public, civic society and retired judges. It will act as a properly funded and staffed tribunal in order to determine all complaints in a prompt, fair manner.”

It explained: “Under the current system, if an attorney is disbarred and ordered to repay, that is the end of the disciplinary process. The power to enforce the court order to repay lies with another arm of the legal system entirely. The Barbados Bar believes that the body imposing the discipline must have certain powers to ensure swifter justice for the public as well as enforcement of orders made for restitution and repayment of client funds.”

Only last month, Chief Justice Sir Patterson Cheltenham called for an amendment to the Legal Profession Act to allow for swifter justice for clients whose funds had been misappropriated by their attorneys.

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