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Lawyers against changes to Act

Balford Henry

Monday, July 09, 2012    

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THE Jamaican Bar Association (JBA) has raised a number of concerns about proposed amendments to the Legal Profession Act, which will affect the operations of lawyers in Jamaica.

The Jamaica Observer understands that in a submission to the Senate on Friday June 29, the Bar Association severely criticised proposals to give the General Legal Council (GLC) the right to take action against attorneys to protect the property of clients, without seeking approval from the Supreme Court.

The Bill provides that the Council may, without an application to the Court for an order, take action to protect the property or moneys of a client in the control of an attorney in cases where the court has made an absolute order for bankruptcy against the attorney, or where the attorney has died; or, without notice, apply to a judge in chambers for an order to protect the client's property, in cases where the attorney has been struck from the roll or suspended for six months or more.

But, according to the JBA, except in cases where the attorney's name has been struck from the record and the GLC thinks that to give notice would defeat the purpose of the order, the Council must apply to the Supreme Court for an order in all cases of intervention, and must serve the application on the attorney, his personal representative or committee.

"The GLC must in all cases, including applications ex parte, satisfy the court that no satisfactory arrangements exist for protecting the interests of the attorney's clients," the Bar Association is demanding.

Section 20 of the Bill would give the GLC the right to apply to the Court for an order to take action to protect the property of an attorney's client which is in the possession or control of an attorney, on the grounds that the attorney has been found guilty in the court of dishonesty or any related improper conduct.

In addition, the Bill would hold the attorney responsible in relation to property or money owned by a client, if an agent or employee of his has stolen the client's property or money, or in cases where the attorney has closed practice without settling with clients. But, the JBA said that the attorney should not be punished for the acts of his dishonest employee or client.

The Bar Association also expressed reservations about the Bill authorising the GLC to institute a process of continuing legal professional development (CLPD), which relates to the training and certification of the lawyers.

The JBA said that there is no definition of what constitutes continuing legal professional development, and wants it to be clarified in the Bill. It also said that there is significant concern among attorneys about the capacity of the GLC to provide that type of service, as well as the cost implications for attorneys if a competent body is to be established to oversee or manage the process.

The Bill amending the Legal Profession Act is seeking to introduce provisions to enhance the quality of service provided by attorneys and their conduct, and will expand the jurisdiction of the GLC's Disciplinary Committee.

It contains provisions to empowering the GLC to: take action to protect client's moneys, property and documents; require institutions holding funds for an attorney's client to hand over these funds to the Council to be deposited into a special account for the benefit of the client; obtain a court order to redirect postal articles to an address provided by the GLC; and administer a compensation fund from which grants may be made to compensate the loss of client's property.

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