KINGSTON — Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, has challenged the legal fraternity to embark on programmes, aimed at improving the negative perception which the general public has of its members.
Delivering the keynote address at the Norman Manley Law School’s Distinguished Lecture and Dinner, at the Mona Visitors’ Lodge, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, on April 13, he cited the results of an opinion poll published in a local daily publication last year, which ranked attorneys at the pinnacle of a list of the top four persons that the respondents least trusted, at 39 per cent. Others in that list, he informed, were the police, at 28 per cent; community dons, eight per cent; and politicians, seven per cent.
Speaking on the topic: ‘Moral Duty of Care’, the Governor-General pointed out that the results of this survey had “obvious implications” for attorneys, adding that many persons are aware of challenges members of the legal fraternity grapple with and the negative impact that these have on its image.
“It serves to highlight the position of trust and confidence that attorneys should enjoy. The public has a legitimate expectation that individuals in the profession will live by the highest moral standards; this expectation was not easily gained. Many men and women worked tirelessly to build goodwill, and have worked even harder to maintain this goodwill. If this legitimate expectation is unfulfilled, the client feels betrayed. It is evident, then, that lawyers must be seen to be the guardians of justice, fairness and truth, in order for the perception to be changed and a higher level of trust accorded to them,” he argued.
Against this background, he implored current law students to remain steadfast as “guardians of the higher moral pillars on which the legal profession is built." He also challenged them not to be consumed with personal gains, to the detriment of the profession.
Pointing to the “relentless efforts’ of the General Legal Council (GLC) to ensure attorneys fulfill the “legitimate expectations” of the public, the Governor-General said these are underpinned by Canons of Professional Ethics governing the fraternity’s activities.
“The Canons state (inter-alia), that an attorney has a duty to assist in maintaining the dignity of the courts and…the integrity of the administration of justice. The Canons further state that attorneys have a duty to maintain proper professional attitude towards their colleagues. Winning at all cost is, probably, not the best approach, because at no time should attorneys destroy each other to win. Endeavouring to win at all cost destroys friendships, reputations, sacrifice professionalism, and the search for truth,” he said.
The Governor General emphasised that every attorney and, by extension, the society, has a duty to be truthful, diligent, honest, and selfless, and described fulfillment of these duties as a two-pronged approach.
“First, you must reflect moral virtues in your daily lives and, second, you must assist in inculcating them in our fellowmen and, particularly, the young. Every attorney and aspiring attorney must hold themselves to a higher moral standard. Endeavour to fulfill your moral duty of care and never be in dereliction of your duty. Pass on to our young, moral virtues practised in your daily lives. Mentor a junior attorney, and let your speech, actions and deportment be a reflection of your moral virtues,” he implored.
By DOUGLAS McINTOSH, JIS Reporter