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Bar Association deals informally with lawyer-client disputes – Baptiste

Bar Association deals informally with lawyer-client disputes – Baptiste

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While there is no Act regulating the legal profession in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), there is need for greater client care in attorney-client relationships.

This was the conclusion of attorney René Baptiste, president of the SVG Bar Association, which she said has taken on the informal responsibility of dealing with disputes between lawyers and clients.

Baptiste, in an interview with SEARCHLIGHT on October 23, said the issue of a Legal Professions Bill regulating the conduct of lawyers and other issues such as the standard which is to be upheld in the legal profession, has been an issue long before the case Israel Bruce v Williams and Williams brought it into sharp relief.

In this case, attorney Israel Bruce brought a claim against the defendants, allegedly former clients, to retrieve a sum he said had been agreed on orally as a contingency fee. The Master in the case, Fidela Corbin Lincoln, stated that she agreed that the case brought “into sharp focus the need for legislation regulating legal practitioners” in SVG.

Baptiste, who has been practicing for 41 years, is supportive of such a bill being enacted, saying that she has had “reports of individuals who are not legally trained attempting to practise law in St Vincent, so that we need to in fact, try our best to get a bill.”

She said since she became president of the Bar Association in 2014, she “submitted to the [then] Honourable Attorney-General … copies of the Act from Grenada, the bill from Dominica and the Act from Antigua for her perusal and study; for the Ministry of Legal Affairs to make recommendations to the Minister of Legal Affairs, who will put those issues and the bill before Cabinet.”

She said although the bill had been contemplated a few years ago, she does not know what is the status of it, only that it is with the Ministry of Legal Affairs.

“For some reason, it didn’t make it to the top of the Legal Affairs agenda,” she said.

Currently, those individuals wishing to make complaints about the conduct of their lawyers or vice versa only have available to them the informal process of going through the Bar Association, or to bring a case to the court.

Baptiste said although there are 122 practising lawyers in SVG, there are usually only three to six complaints a year to the Bar Association.

She explained that the current procedure for people with complaints is that they write to the Bar Association and then participate in an informal mediation process, where both parties may meet or hold a telephone conference, with the aim of the mediation being to “get a common understanding between the lawyer and the client.”

She said sometimes, “People do come with very fixed ideas of what they believe the law is and that is not the law. Also, perhaps what they see on a television show as well and that is not how the courts function.”

In order to resolve the deficiency in knowledge as to how the court works, Baptiste believes that more in-depth explanation of the process to clients is needed.

“I think perhaps we need to do more [of] what is client care.. and perhaps to be more in touch with clients.”

Even if there were legislation on the matter, Baptiste stressed that people would still need to follow a process.

“There is going to be a process; it’s not that because there is a legislation you’re going to beat up on people; you can’t do that. Everybody has rights. Every person has rights. The question is sometimes knowing what these rights are.”(KR)

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