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Surprised that there is no Legal Profession Act in SVG

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Editor: Several persons have drawn my attention to that a few lawyers in St Vincent and the Grenadines are not operating above board. At least two are strong supporters of the governing Unity Labour Party. On making enquiries, I was shocked to learn that there is no Legal Profession Act in place in that country which gained independence from Britain since October 27 1979 – more than 35 years ago.{{more}}

There are as many as 110 lawyers who are members of the SVG Bar Association and since there is no Act in place, complaints are made to the president of the Bar Association. In a small state like SVG with a population of less than 110,000, one would expect that the head of the Bar Association would most likely have political preferences. The current president is René Baptiste, who was a minister in the Ralph Gonsalves administration and her predecessor was Kay Bacchus, a strong supporter of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP).

I am not at all contending that the presidents of the Bar would show their loyalty to members of their party in dealing with complaints. I will never go there, but remember justice must not only be done, but seen to be done.

The president of the OECS Bar Association Ruggles Ferguson, who is also the head of the Grenada Bar Association, said that the Legal Profession Act was only passed in Grenada in 2011, with a General Legal Council in place (GLC), chaired by the Chief Justice or her nominee. The Bar has two representatives on the GLC, including a Queen’s Counsel. Legal Profession Acts are also in force in St Lucia, Antigua and Barbuda and St Kitts/Nevis.

Similar acts are also in Guyana and Belize. I served as a member of the Belize GLC when I served as Solicitor-General in that Central American country. It was surprising to note that there were complaints against a few senior lawyers, and at least one was a senior government official.

SVG has a large number of lawyers for its population and the Government should ensure that proper mechanisms are in place to discipline lawyers who do not live up to the noble profession.

The OECS president said that his organization is pressing for the Legal Practitioners Act to be passed in all the jurisdictions where there is none, before the end of the year. Ferguson indicated to me in an email that in SVG, a draft Bill is on the Attorney General’s desk and he expects that it will be presented in Parliament before the end of the year.

Efforts to get the exact number of complaints filed against lawyers from the president of the SVG Bar were futile. My email on this question was unanswered. I must add that SVG has a unique Bar – at least one former attorney general, who was convicted of a criminal offence, is still practising the profession and two other lawyers, who have more than 40 years experience at the Bar, were given slaps on the wrist, one for forging a document and the other for malpractice, and they are in the courts like any other practitioner.

In passing I should note that it is also surprising that SVG, with 110 attorneys, only has five Queen’s Counsel. One served as a magistrate for a few years, creating history by becoming the first and only QC to serve the lowest rung in the judiciary.

Belize, on the other hand, with far fewer lawyers than SVG, has far too many – 24 Senior Counsel (lawyers who have silk and are members of the inner bar are called Senior Counsel) and a few are political appointees.

Oscar Ramjeet

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