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Legislation to protect the public from misconduct by attorneys-at-law was passed in the Upper House on Friday (Feb. 9).
The Bill, An Act to amend the Legal Profession Act, which was piloted by Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Senator A.J. Nicholson, provides for changes in relation to: the jurisdiction and powers of the disciplinary committee of the General Legal Counsel (GLC); persons practising as attorneys without a practising certificate or through fraud or misrepresentation; and increases in fines for breaches of the provisions.
Senator Nicholson said that the proposed amendments, which were recommended by the GLC, “seek to tighten up the legislative provisions in some instances and to clarify certain areas of ambiguity in other instances, and generally to enhance the effectiveness of the regulatory machinery in particular with regard to disciplinary function.”
For practising as a lawyer without being enrolled, the fine will move up from $200 to a maximum of $500,000, and “fines that were $400, which were intended to move from $50,000, will go to $1million maximum,” he informed.
For wilfully impersonating a lawyer, it is proposed that this fine should move from $200 to $500,000, while for practising without being duly qualified or entitled to practise, or in the name of or through the agency of an attorney entitled to practise, the fine will move from $200 to $500,000.
Turning to clause 5 (8), which provides penalties for the unlawful practise of the law, Senator Nicholson said “it does not address the case where a person gains admission to practise by fraud or misrepresentation”. He was that a new (8a) would be inserted, to confirm on the Legal Education Authority, the Supreme Court and the GLC, the power to take certain actions if they were satisfied that the admission to practise was obtained by fraudulent means.
He pointed out however that before taking action, these bodies must give to the attorney concerned a written notice of intention to take such action and shall afford the attorney an opportunity to be heard.
In terms of the jurisdiction of the GCL, the body has been given the power to hear and determine complaints against attorneys, whose names have been struck off the roll for alleged misconduct committed and to hear complaints against an attorney, who has been suspended from practise for alleged misconduct.
The Bill was originally tabled in 1998, but fell off the Order Paper after Senators took issue with the provision seeking to make practising as a lawyer without a valid practising certificate a criminal offence.
Senator Nicholson however, said that the Bill has since been reviewed by the GLC and a decision taken that practising without a valid certificate would be treated as professional misconduct to be dealt with by the GLC, instead of a criminal sanction to be handled by the police.
In making her contribution to the debate, Government Senator Donna Scott-Mottley said that “it has been long awaited and those of us who sit on the General Legal Council have had to wrestle for sometime with some of these difficult issues, and that is why I think the legislation makes it clear for the avoidance of doubt”.