Mandatory membership of Bar not unconstitutional, preliminary research suggests

Attorney General Hon. Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington said that mandatory membership of the Bar Association is unconstitutional; but the association’s president Eamon Courtenay told the media on Tuesday that is not the case.
“Since this matter has been raised, some of our members have done some research, and have already found cases where this specific matter has come up, and it has been found not to be unconstitutional,” Courtenay said.
Current Bar Council Member and past president Jacqueline Marshalleck said that based on its preliminary research, the mandatory membership of other organizations has been found to be unconstitutional, but that is not the case with the Bar Association of Belize.
The US Supreme Court has found that mandatory membership is not unconstitutional. And that is also the case with the European Court of Justice, Marshalleck said.
The question, however, of its constitutionality has not been looked at in the Caribbean. Therefore, the Bar is seeking an outside legal opinion on that matter, she said.
On Monday, the Bar Association held a meeting and came up a four-point plan on how it will go about the matter of the Attorney General’s proposed amendment.
Marshalleck told The Reporter Thursday that Bar members unanimously agreed to prepare and submit to the Attorney General comments on the draft Bill.
In addition, the Bar has proposed to organize a committee that will include members of the Judiciary and officers from the Attorney General’s office to discuss the proposed amendment.
Last Tuesday, Elrington, speaking on the rationale for the proposed amendments to the Legal Professions Act, said to the media:
“We are convinced that as it is presently constituted, the Legal Professions Act is unconstitutional as it relates to the requirement that all members of the profession have to belong to the Bar Association.
Under the constitution, we have freedom of association. We should not have to belong to the Bar Association.”
Elrington went on to say that he takes issue with the fact that attorneys are “forced” to belong to an organization that “does little, if anything, to promote the interest of attorneys at law.”
Attorney Godfrey Smith, S.C., writing in his Flashpoint blog, agreed with Elrington’s sentiments and said: “
“There is more than a kernel of truth in the Attorney General’s accusations. But it is far from being the whole truth”
Smith suggested some of the things that the bar could have been doing for the society, such as developing a legal-aid website “that encourages public self-help by providing free templates for things like wills, simple contracts, leases, bills of sale, deed polls, statutory declarations.”
Smith also said that the association could have provided high school scholarships annually.
“Reforms could have been initiated so that, as an example, persons wishing to divorce each other (without ascribing blame) could do so without requiring the services of an attorney.”
Courtenay and other members of the Bar have refuted the claims that the Belize Bar Association has not been doing anything.
“The Bar was very disappointed in some of the things that have been said, some of the criticisms that have been levelled…” Courtenay complained.
“We believe that the best way to deal with this is to seek to engage the Attorney General, seek to engage the Government on some their concerns.”

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