Calling for reform
Speaker’s situation sparks matter of lawyers conduct, says Inniss
Amid a legal controversy involving Speaker of the House of Assembly Michael Carrington, an outspoken member of Government is calling for reforms to the Legal Profession Act.
Senior minister Donville Inniss said the current legislation does not ensure enough accountability, and, in most cases, mandates that lawyers have oversight for the conduct of their colleagues.
He declined to comment on the situation involving Carrington, an attorney who is involved in a dispute with one of his former clients, noting that the matter was already before Parliament’s Committee of Privileges and that body should be allowed to do its work.
John Griffiths, 78, is still waiting on Carrington to pay about $210,000 more from the sale of one of his deceased aunt’s properties. The High Court had ordered that he present an account of the money and pay whatever was due, along with interest.
“If we have an institution and we have structures and parliamentarians determine that this is where a particular issue should go and be addressed, then let that particular arm of the Parliament do its business. But to seek to hijack the process and to want to deal with things in your way doesn’t speak volume about good leadership,” the minister said at a branch meeting at his St James South constituency office last night.
The Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce Industry, International Business and Commerce said the matter involving Carrington had brought to the fore, the broader issue of lawyers’ conduct.
He said he objected to the requirement that all lawyers must be members of the Bar Association and questioned whether that contravened any other legislation.
“I have always contended, and will always contend, that one of the weaknesses in our system is that lawyers govern themselves too much. You have a Bar Association and I think you are required, as a lawyer, to join the Bar Association. I ask the question ‘does that not go against the fair trade principles and practices?’,” he said.
“You have a disciplinary committee comprised of all lawyers. That, to my mind, is fundamentally wrong. When I was Minister of Health I took a position that the Medical Council that’s responsible for licensing and regulation and disciplining doctors in this country, as it was back then, was an incestuous bunch and that you needed to have people outside of the medical profession serving on the Medical Council. I placed patient advocate, lawyer and a member of John Public on that Medical Council so that there must be a greater level of transparency, accountability and all the attendant issues.”
While recalling that all lawyers in Parliament supported the change, he expressed doubt that legislators would give the same backing to similar amendments to the Legal Profession Act.
Expressing concern that this was affecting the cost of doing business in Barbados, the minister queried why legal fees were not decreasing despite an increased number of lawyers practising their trade in the country.
“Is the scale of fees being used today by the legal professionals still relevant or not, and does it contravene the fair trade practices or principles as well?” he questioned.
“When I hear of the fees being charged and the resultant cost to doing business in Barbados, it is significant. But that is a particular group of individuals in this country that nobody wants to touch. They are sacrosanct, but not in my eyes.”
The minister also made a case for lawyers to be required to further their education.
“You cannot consider yourself a professional and not wish to continue your education to stay on top of things. Teachers have to do it, nurses have to do it, doctors are now required to do it, accountants have to do it, but lawyers are not required to do it. I say that the time has come when continuing professional education for lawyers in Barbados must be made mandatory,” Inniss added.