The Senate met on Wednesday to pass the bill for amendments to the Legal Profession Act.
The Bill is the brainchild of the current UDP Administration, which has labelled the Belize Bar Association as having a strong PUP bias. The bill makes it no longer compulsory for Lawyers to belong to the Bar Association in order to practise law in Belize. The other major change that the Bill proposes is that the General Legal Council, which is responsible for monitoring complaints from Clients of Attorneys, will be reconstituted.
Two Senators, Senator Lisa Shoman and Senator Patrick Jason Andrews, appeared on Wednesday morning’s Rise and Shine Show and shared their own perspectives on the legislation.
According to Senator Shoman there was no consultation with the Association, or its respective arms, to hear their opinions on the bill.
“This was not consulted with the Bar. I have sat on the General Legal Council since 2009, and I know the work it does. So let me give that disclosure up front.
In April of this year, the Attorney General promised the General Legal Council to bring this Law for its consideration. I know he had not given it to the General Legal Council!
It is depriving citizens of a step, because when citizens complain to the GLC, the GLC studies the complaint, makes recommendations to the Chief Justice, then the Chief Justice decides what happens. So lawyers don’t discipline lawyers just like that. The Chief Justice must agree.
Now what they’re doing is they mash up the General Legal Council and the Chief Justice together, put them in one bag, and now if you’re bexed the only place you could go is the Court of Appeal. Who’s got money for that?”
Besides changing the process that lawyers must go through when a complaint is brought against them, Senator Shoman says that it is an attempt at weakening the Association itself.
Senator Lisa Shoman
“Now they’ve tried to put the CJ in control. We have no problem with the CJ. That’s the right person to deal with certain things. Also though, they have tried to kill the Bar Association by diluting it, but they forgot one thing. There’s a lot of responsibility that the Bar Association has behind the scenes, that now nobody has that responsibility.
So, it’s going to be very interesting in the days, and weeks, and months, and years to come, how this plays out.
I very carefully looked at the reactions of both the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, during the House, and it was clear to me that there was a great deal animosity driving the discussion.
Let’s be clear. This is about dealing with an Association for particular reasons, and it’s not going to give us a better democracy. Nobody could care about lawyers, you know. I get that. I understand that. The point is that when they come for your association next, just be ready.”
Senator Patrick Andrews stated that, though not an attorney himself, he takes particular offense to the language used by the Government’s attempts to label the Bar Association as PUP.
“I was also at the House Meeting, last week Thursday, and I heard the Prime Minister talk about the Bar Association as being a PUP Bar Association. I also heard him talk about, in 2005, that the PUP Bar Association did not say or do anything that he was expecting for them to do.
I believe that the Bar Association has come out on important issues, as it relates to checks and balance, and holding this Government in check, and other Governments in check, and it’s important to any democracy to have checks and balance within our system. An attempt to dissolve the Bar Association, or to take away that check and balance, would only continue to deteriorate our democracy in our country, and therefore I see it as an insult and an appalling step by this Government, to try and use the power of the state, to try and carry out its own grudges against an association in this country.
We have a Constitutional right in this country, to affiliate ourselves with any political party that we want to, or any organisation, and the Prime Minister should not be getting so low [as] to try and break up a Bar, because supposedly people’s preference is PUP.”
The Bill passed through the senate on Wednesday, and heads back to the House for its third and final reading.