Bill to remove compulsory membership by attorneys-at-law to the Bar

Area Representatives met on Friday at the National Assembly building in Belmopan for a special House Sitting, and as customary we bring you the highlights of the event. Several amendment bills were read and a few motions were passed.

Among them was the bill to amend the  Legal Profession Act Chapter 320 which was presented in the House by the Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington.

vlcsnap-2014-09-06-06h17m58s219The amendment bill was twofold; it aimed to provide  for the composition of the General Legal Council; and to remove the requirement of compulsory membership by attorneys-at-law to the Bar Association of Belize. After the meeting, the Prime Minister expounded on this amendment.

vlcsnap-2014-09-06-06h18m45s132Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Before, the matter had to go to the General Legal Council and the Chief Justice. No judge of the Supreme Court sat on the General Legal Council. The General Legal Council would make a finding and then that had to go to the Chief Justice for confirmation or for, perhaps, his disagreement. This way he chairs the thing so it’s a one stop type of operation now, and so there ought to be dispatch into dealing with complaints.  That’s the first major aspect of the amendment.

The second is very straight forward, to remove this mandatory requirement that all attorneys at  law become members and pay fees to the Bar association of Belize. “

Reporter

“Is this a symptom of your fatigue with the Bar Association? You have said it is instrumentalised by a group of PUPs, at least. “

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“Well, I think it’s a combination of two things, That definitely is one ingredient, but as well the question of whether it is constitutional to oblige people who are earning their living by being members of a particular profession, to have to belong to one association. Some question has arisen as to whether that is constitutional, and I will tell you that we are going to be looking at other professional associations.

I don’t know if it’s the same situation, for example, with the Association of Chartered Accountants, the same with the Association of Professional Engineers. Whether it is that you cannot absolutely practice as an accountant, practice as an engineer, except you belong to these associations.”

Meanwhile, the Bar remains as the only association of lawyers in Belize. What this amendment means is that lawyers can practise law without being a member of the Association and without paying a fee.

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

 “All that will happen is the association will continue, in the case of the Bar, and except or unless and until some other association is formed by those who don’t want to belong to the Bar Association. It is the Bar Association that will be treated with, where any structural arrangements require representation from lawyers. Principally we will still look to the Bar Association, but very simply it means that I can practice law without paying the fee and without joining the Bar Association.”

Reporter

“Will you resign from the Bar or stop paying your Bar fee?”

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
“I will most as surely do so sir.”

There have been obvious tensions between this governmental administration and the Bar Association, specifically lately over the appointment of  Samuel Awich as Justice of Appeal. The Bar said that  Government’s reappointment  of Mr Awich would result in a “real likelihood of an appearance of bias”.

The current President of the Bar Association is Eamon Courtenay, who is also one of the attorneys working for the Ashcroft Alliance which demanded that Justice Awich recuse himself because of an alleged appearance of bias in the second BTL reacquisition case in October 2012. That has just been one of the issues between the government and the Bar and so Friday’s bill came as no surprise.

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