Watchdog of the law

I previously wrote on the question of the non-payment of the annual subscription by some attorneys-at-law. I was reminded by a colleague (one who has paid) that not all persons on the list are merely delinquent that there are a few conscientious objectors.

I intended to address it but was sidetracked by death-by-medical-report and indirect manslaughter. The nature of their objection is that the Bar Association is a trade union and they cannot be forced to join. So in the interests of fairness we examine their objections in brief.

Section 11 of the Constitution provides that “every person in Barbados is entitled to the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual — but subject to the rights and freedoms of others and for the public interest to each and all of the following, namely: (d) freedom of conscience, of expression and of assembly and association”.

If one has read any previous article dealing with the fundamental rights and freedoms of individuals one would have by now realised that such rights are always subject to the greater public good and freedom of association is no different.

In fleshing out this right, the architects of the Constitution continued with section 21 which provides that:

“(1) Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of assembly and association, that is to say, his right to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to political parties or to form or belong to trade unions or other associations for the protection of interests.

(2) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision … (b) that is reasonably required for the purpose of the protection of the rights or freedoms of other persons.”

The Barbados Bar Association is a body incorporated by the Barbados Bar Association Act, Cap. 363. Among its aims and objects set out at Rule 2 it is stated that the association is established

(a) to support and protect the character, status and interest of the Legal Profession generally and particularly attorneys-at-law practising in Barbados;

(b) to promote honourable practice and settle disputed points in practice;

(d) to improve the administration of justice and procedure and trial by jury;

(g) to settle questions of professional conduct, discipline and etiquette;

(k) to protect the public right of access to the courts and of representation by attorneys-at-law before the courts and tribunals…”

As one can see, other than paragraph (a) none of the objects and aims of the profession (including those not quoted) are even remotely akin to the voluntary association of the average trade union. The Bar is and is intended to be a watchdog for matters relating to the practise of law while also functioning as a disciplinary body.

Incidentally, since we love all things British, it is impossible to practise law in the UK without being a member of the Inns of Court or being subject to the dictates of the Law Society. One does not need to go to the length of passing an act of Parliament to create a trade association as the National Union of Public Workers, Barbados Union of Teachers, Barbados Secondary Teachers Union or any other trade union in Barbados, whether large or small, can tell you.

The Bar Association is also a regulatory body and compulsory membership renders attorneys subject to the Code of Ethics and other rules for the protection of the public.

Admittedly I have not checked it, but if the act was passed with a two-thirds majority of Parliament then it would have effectively amended the Constitution in any event. One way or the other, I wish either the association or one of the so-called “conscientious objectors” would “grow a pair” and actually seek a declaration from the court and put this to rest.

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