The Bar Council of the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) is finalising its list of nominees for the Legal Practitioners Committee (LPC), which could be up and running by the end of this month, GBA President Kamal Ramkarran says.
The life of the previously constituted LPC came to an end last year and up to that point it was actively hearing complaints made by persons about the conduct of attorneys.
Ramkarran, during a recent interview with Stabroek News, underscored the importance of lawyers being held accountable for any wrongdoing they commit and informed that since being elected to office on May 31, 2017, he has received a handful of complaints from the aggrieved clients of some practitioners.
He said that the acting Chancellor Yonette Cummings-Edwards recently asked the GBA to submit its nominees and the Council is in the process of providing these.
The LPC comprises 15 lawyers, 12 of whom are appointed by the Chancellor following consultations with the GBA, while the remainder are state officials from the Attorney General’s Chambers, who are ex-officio members.
Article 36 of the Legal Practitioners Act vests the committee with the power to “(a) dismiss the application; (b) impose on the attorney-at-law to whom the application relates, a fine not exceeding two hundred thousand dollars as the Committee thinks proper; (c) reprimand the attorney-at-law to whom the application relates; or (d) make an order as to costs of proceedings as it thinks fit, and in addition, except where the application is dismissed, the Committee may order the attorney-at-law to pay the applicant or person aggrieved a sum by way of compensation and reimbursement and any further sum in respect of expenses incidental to the hearing of the application and the consideration of the report as it thinks fit.”
The Act states that if the committee is of the opinion that a more severe punishment, such as suspension from practice or removal from the Court Roll, is justifiable, it shall forward to the Chancellor and to the Attorney General a copy of the proceedings before it and its findings.
Once the committee establishes that there is a case for misconduct against a lawyer, it has to report its findings to the judges of the court. The attorney-at-law in question is given an opportunity to show cause why an order to remove him/her from the Court Roll shall not be made and the Attorney-General or an attorney-at-law nominated by him may also be heard.
Ramkarran told this newspaper that once the GBA’s nominees are submitted, the committee could be in operation by the end of the month.
He noted the complaints he has received since taking office. “I have sent them to the Court of Appeal because…we have no power. We [the Bar Council] are a volunteer organisation. Our membership is voluntary,” he explained, while noting that if one does not want to join the Association, there is no consequences as membership is not a mandatory requirement. “We have no powers of discipline…The only entity that can discipline is the Legal Practitioners Committee and a Full Court which arises out of a finding by the Legal Practitioners Committee,” he added.
He said he has been sending persons to the Court of Appeal to lodge their complaints so that when the Committee is established, those matters can be heard.
There has been concern that lawyers found guilty of wrongdoing are getting off too lightly.
In June, Ramkarran had told this newspaper that the GBA has a keen interest in improving public confidence in lawyers and the legal profession. He said that in this regard, ways to strengthen the powers of the LPC to impose stiffer penalties would be explored.
The committee, he had informed, has very limited powers under the law regarding discipline, which includes imposing a fine not exceeding $200,000 and reprimanding the attorney.
Senior Counsel Ralph Ramkarran had also touched on this issue, urging that the new GBA Bar Council to advocate for the system of discipline to be transformed. He focused his attention on removal from the profession for misconduct and he pointed out that decades have passed without a lawyer being taken before a judge to answer such an offence.
Meanwhile, the GBA President told Stabroek News that a committee to review the new Civil Procedures Rules for the Supreme Court has been formed. The GBA had taken a decision to form this committee following complaints from lawyers. The intention is to make recommendations to the judiciary which could see these complaints being addressed.
When asked about this committee, Ramkarran informed that the committee met with acting Chief Justice Roxane George SC regarding the rules and general matters involving the legal profession.
He stated that the plan is that before the end of November, there will be a meeting with all of the members of the Bar, before which the lawyers will be asked to submit their concerns via email so that the Council can attend the meeting armed with information. He expressed hope that by the end of the meeting, there will be an agreed list of complaints, which will then be taken to the Chancellor at her request and “they will start looking at the rules in terms of preparing practice directions to see whether any of the rules need amending… or strengthening.”
Prior to the implementation of the rules, a number of training sessions were held, one of which was conducted by the Caribbean Court of Justice with the assistance of the Guyana Judicial Education Institute. Among the beneficiaries were judges, magistrates, attorneys–both state and private–and court registry staff.
These rules are expected to contribute to improved accessibility to the court, the more efficient resolution of matters and access to mediation procedures within the country’s legal system.