Williams optimistic new legal profession bill will see improved conduct by attorneys

Model legislation has been drafted to aid in the strengthening of the disciplinary procedures and accounting rules governing members of the legal profession, Attorney General Basil Williams SC announced on Wednesday evening.

“Our attorneys are not easily persuaded that they could be disciplined in any way, shape or form…,” Williams said, while expressing hope that the model Legal Profession Bill, once approved, will push attorneys to conduct themselves professionally at all times.

Williams was at the time addressing the opening ceremony of Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice Project) meetings of the Legal Profession and Legislation Committee and the Business Names Legislation Committee.

Williams told the packed venue that the preparation and drafting of model legal profession and business names legislation are essential to improving legal services and access to justice.

The former, he explained, will introduce continuing legal professional development for attorneys-at-law and he said that strengthened procedures and rules would ensure that attorneys provide a service to clients that is fair, efficient and in their best interests. He stressed the importance of continuous legal training to ensure that attorneys are up to date with best practices and are knowledgeable in all aspects of the law.

With regards to the proposed model business names bill, he said that it would seek to harmonise the current legislation to create a standard system for the registration of business names. He explained that such legislation will provide for integrated registries in the region, meaning, for example, that one can stay in Jamaica and be able to access the registry in Guyana.

Other model legislation for Caricom member states in several areas, inclusive of Major Organised Crime, Sexual Harassment, Community Mediation and Trademarks, is presently being drafted.

IMPACT Justice is a five-year regional justice sector reform project funded by the Canadian government and is being implemented through the Caribbean Law Institute Centre, Faculty of Law, at the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies. The project, which targets 13 Caricom countries, including Guyana, was designed to address deficiencies in the justice sector in the region, outside of those directly related to the judiciary and the courts.

Williams, in his keynote address, reaffirmed the Guyana government’s commitment to the project. “Access to justice is paramount to upholding the rule of law. In its absence, arbitrariness thrives and persons find themselves unable to have their voices heard or exercise their rights,” he said, before adding that it is for these reasons that it is necessary that the justice system provides fair and effective services.

Since the project was implemented, Williams noted, a number of activities have been conducted and these focused mainly on improving legal services and access to legal material. He informed those gathered that under the project 244 books were allocated to the University of Guyana’s Library, while books on Oil and Gas were donated to his Chambers. These donations, he said, were made in an effort to address the shortage of legal material and are part of a wider project to improve the collections at university libraries across the region and to improve the efficiency of library staff.

Williams noted too that in October, 2016, IMPACT Justice commenced training in mediation at the community level and also conducted several training sessions targeting those in different areas within the justice sector. Members of his staff have also benefitted from training programs organised under the project.

Jan Sheltinga, Counsellor for Development Co-operation at the Canadian High Commission, said that the meetings of the two committees represent a significant milestone for the project as well as the enhancement of the rule of law.

Sheltinga, who spoke on behalf of Canadian High Commissioner Pierre Giroux, said that a considerable amount of work, time and effort has gone into the drafting of the model legislation and intensive discussions on broad objectives have been held by the representatives of the Bar Association as well as similar organisations in the region.

“The progress made towards the drafting of these legislation thus far is really commendable,” she said, while adding that the two bills, if approved by Caricom’s Legal Affairs Committee and then by individual member states, will bring about important changes. She said that this approval will result in a contribution to the legal framework for businesses and people of the region.

“As we move towards improving our goal of improving access to justice in the Caribbean …I would like to encourage the legal committee to pay particular attention to the use of plain, modern and relatively simple gender neutral language to make the legislation more easily understood by persons likely to use it,” she said.

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