Proposed Amendment to the Legal Profession Act

The Attorney General Wilfred “Sedi” Elrington has drafted a proposed law to amend the mandatory requirement for attorneys practising law in Belize to be members of the Belize Bar Association.
Elrington told The Reporter on Thursday that he is proposing the amendment to make it consistent with that of other Caribbean countries.
As it now stands, the provision of the Legal Profession Act to require all attorneys to be members of the Bar Association is unconstitutional, because it flies in the face of the freedom of association that the Belize Constitution guarantees.
“Belize is the only country to mandate membership of its Bar Association,” Elrington revealed.
Elrington explained that Belize wants to make her Legal Profession Act more consistent with the rest of the region. “This is something that should have been done a long time ago”, he added.
The amendment will also expand the functions General Legal Counsel, to make it responsible for admitting attorneys into the profession. Under the present structure, a Senior Counsel drafts an affidavit and a special call to the Bar session of the Supreme Court is convened for new attorneys.
Under the new law, that responsibility will now be the function of the General Legal Counsel, which presently is tasked with investigating complaints against attorneys.
The proposed amendment appears to be generating strong opposition from some legal practitioners.
Newly elected Bar president Eamon Courtney told The Reporter that he will reserve comments to the media until after the Bar Association has met and discussed the issue.
The Bar Association will meet on Monday, March 18.
Oscar Sabido, S.C. told The Reporter that there has been one or two decisions in the court where mandatory membership has been held to be unconstitutional.
“You should not seek to disband that bar or create another association, because you are weakening the very structure of democracy, which is a very important part of our system of justice” Sabido cautioned..
Additionally, Sabido said that he takes issue with the Attorney General for insisting that the Bar Association is not functioning.
Sabido said that perhaps the time will come when the Bar can review how it can be more involved, in terms of training, and orientation and other things that have to do with the practice of law.
Sabido said that the amendment will dilute the legal profession and its standards.
Another attorney, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that he is aware of the court ruling that makes mandatory membership of an organisation unconstitutional.
“With the Bar Association not being able to have a say on the General Legal Counsel, it becomes a question of who will be appointed.
“If there is another association, the question is who will the Attorney General be looking at to fulfil that function.
“In terms of that particular function, it is a question that is up in the air and we will have to look at that,” the attorney said.
The Bar Association plays a very important role, he said, although he admitted that attendance at Bar Association meetings has been dismal.
It would be wise for government to seek the advice of the Bar in terms of the proposed legislation.

Comments are closed.