THE Senate passed an amendment to the Legal Profession Act yesterday, paving the way for the General Legal Council (GLC) to exercise stricter control over relationships between lawyers and their clients.
The Bill provides for the establishment of a compensation fund for persons who have suffered loss of property as a result of criminal conduct, or an act amounting to negligence on the part of their attorney. It also speaks to the importance of the attorneys keeping current with developments in the legal field, to avoid giving bad advice to their clients.
The Bill had been stuck in the drafting process for several years, but was passed after senators addressed responses from the GLC to concerns raised by the Jamaican Bar Association (JBA) in a recent submission to the Upper House.
The Bar Association severely criticised proposals to give the GLC the right to act against attorneys to protect the property of clients, without seeking approval from the Supreme Court. The association also expressed reservations about the GLC instituting a process of continuing legal professional development (CLPD), which relates to the ongoing training and certification of lawyers.
But, responding to the JBA's concerns, the GLC urged the Senate not to delay the process any longer.
"While we want to avoid any undue inconvenience or prejudice to attorneys, the protection of the public interest must be a primary focus," the GLC said.
"The recommendations which have given rise to the Bill were made as a result of the many cases in which clients have suffered significant losses, because there were no statutory provisions that authorised the court or council to protect them," the GLC stated.
"The Bill has been pending for many years and has been discussed at length, while the problems it seeks to address have continued," the GLC concluded.
Members on both sides of the Senate expressed general agreement with the intentions of the Bill, although there were concerns about the financing of a compensation fund to reimburse clients who suffer losses, as well as the capacity of the GLC to perform the additional duties efficiently. But in the end, the Bill was passed with three minor amendments, with the full support of the Senate.