Chamber of Advocates warn of action to stop proposed legislation that limits need for warrant to give legal advice

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At an urgent meeting called by the Chamber of Advocates which was held Wednesday pursuant to the presentation of Bill No:217 currently being debated in Parliament, members of the legal profession expressed their strong support to the opposition being made by the Council to the enactment of the said Bill and unanimously resolved to unconditionally support any and all actions which the Council may deem fit in such pursuit.

The meeting, which was addressed by Louis de Gabriele, President of the Chamber, was attended by more than 200 members of the profession, both in person and virtually.

Various attendees expressed their dismay at the position which the Government appears to have taken with respect to the legal profession.  Bill No: 217 in fact proposes to restrict the warrant of advocates exclusively for court related work, thus allowing any person who has some academic qualification in law, as prescribed by the Minister, to provide legal services. 

During the meeting, the president of the Chamber stated:

“An advocate’s warrant is not there to protect us as advocates, but rather to protect the public from persons who falsely hold themselves out and giving the impression that they are advocates, without having satisfied the necessary prerequisites to be awarded a warrant.  The warrant is the assurance which the State itself gives to the public that it can safely put trust and confidence in an advocate, not only as a person who has reached the minimum levels of competence to be able to dispense legal advice to them, but also because that person in becoming a warranted advocate has shown that he/she is of good conduct and repute; has shown that he/she is fit and proper to be admitted to the profession; has undertaken at least one year of practice in the law; is governed by a set of ethical principles and is subject to disciplinary proceedings and may, if he breaches that code, be subject to losing the warrant which authorises him/her to practice law.”

The Chamber has been for more than 12 years lobbying and insisting on raising the bar for the profession and to have a regulatory framework that continues to guarantee its independence and comprise more rigorous standards within the profession.  It is indeed surreal that in 2021 the profession is now faced with a Bill that is proposing the removal of the requirement of a warrant for most of the legal services covered by such warrant. The thrust of the proposal is that going forward a person shall not need a warrant to provide legal services outside court litigation but will simply be subject to some regulations to be made directly by the Minister.   It is yet unknown what these regulations will contain.

The Chamber’s representatives stated that what is baffling in the whole situation is that only a month or so ago Parliament enacted a law that made certain changes to the code of organization and civil procedure. The same proponents of that law, are now, just days after the enactment thereof, proposing through Bill 217 to completely abrogate those provisions. 

One such provision is the statutory recognition of the Chamber of Advocates in article 84B of the Code – why would that provision be suitable for inclusion on the 20 April 2021, but deemed no longer suitable in June of the same year?

Members also asked what was motivating the changes being proposed by Government in this Bill and what could be deemed so urgent for this Bill to be passed in such a short time.  Unfortunately, these were the questions that the Chamber’s Council had already sought clarification on, but so far none of them have been answered and therefore one could only speculate as to why the changes, and more, why the urgency.

The meeting noted with concern that the Government has proceeded with proposing the Bill in question without any form of consultation and noted with regret that despite the reasonable appeal made to the Minister of Justice to suspend the debate in Parliament in respect of this Bill and to engage in meaningful discussions with the Chamber and other stakeholders to devise a regulatory framework which regulates the profession wholistically, have been ignored with absolutely no reaction having been received from the Government. 

The Chamber reiterated that there was a dire need for a clear common vision for the profession going forward, and that the Chamber was committed to constructively participate in a joint project with Government with a view to devising a regulatory architecture for the profession.

The members present demanded that the authorities render account for these actions and explain the true motivations behind such proposals.

Following numerous interventions calling upon the Chamber to step up action in defence of its position, Dr de Gabriele re-assured the members present that the Chamber remains open to negotiation and discussion with the Government. The Chamber’s Council is determined to leave no stone unturned in its commitment to have a law which respects the dignity of the profession and protects the public interest.

The Chamber indicated that it was exploring the most effective measures in response, if the Government remains intent on proceeding with the law in its current state, without further discussion with the Chamber, the professional body which itself was recognised as the official representative body for legal professionals only a few days ago.  It called upon the members to remain vigilant and participate in any call for action it may announce in the coming days.

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