More than three years after the House of Assembly passed legislation to revamp the rules for attorneys in the Virgin Islands, the territory is finally getting a disciplinary tribunal to govern their behaviour.
In late 2015, lawmakers passed the Legal Profession Act, a section of which requires the establishment of a “disciplinary tribunal” designed to give members of the public and the attorney general a framework to submit complaints about lawyers in the territory.
It’s finally here. The new body will serve as a “watchdog over the legal profession and administer discipline to any grievance regarding misconduct,” according to a government press release.
Jacqueline Daley, then president of the BVI Bar Association, told the Beacon in February 2018 that complaints about VI legal practitioners were not common, but when they did arise there historically was not a clear system for dealing with them.
Complainants were encouraged to go to the police or the BVIBA, depending on the nature of the complaint and whether it was criminal or related to professional misconduct. The bar association had no way to enforce its rulings aside from simply “appealing to the better place” of lawyers, she said.
In 2017, for example, the association received six complaints, five of which she considered legitimate, Ms. Daley said at the time. Some were repeat offenders. She has said a tribunal could provide a better frame- work for addressing issues that certain lawyers seem to cause repetitively.
Last September, addressing the association during an event to mark the opening of the new law year, Ms. Daley praised the creation of one of the “long- awaited provisions” of the Legal Profession Act.
“We look forward to [the tribunal] functioning and we look forward to its operation in the way that we all know it needs to be,” she said.
The tribunal will be made up of eight members. The chair and
co-chair will be attorneys Sally Cox and Paul Dennis, QC, respectively, with the rest of the tribunal made up of Tiffany Scatliffe Esprit, Hazel-Ann Hannaway, Jack Husbands, Edward DeCastro and Tre Todman. Erica Smith-Penn, registrar of the High Court, will be secretary to the tribunal.
Under the act, the BVIBA is given the responsibility to nominate one practitioner to the seven-person body.The attorney general is in charge of nominating one and appointing five.
The chief justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court is supposed to nominate and appoint two members. The premier, the leader of the opposition, the director of public prosecutions are also responsible for nominating one tribunal member each, subject to appointment by the attorney general.
Complaints can be issued by clients, the attorney general, the High Court registrar, a member of the VI General Legal Council, the court or anyone else claiming to be aggrieved by an act of professional misconduct from a legal practitioner, according to government.
Complaints will be submitted to the secretary of the tribunal, which then determines whether to summarily dismiss the complaint or to hold a hearing.
If a hearing is held, notices will be issued fixing the hearing date and requiring various steps to be taken by the parties involved.
Parties have a right of appeal to the Court of Appeal within 28 days of tribunal decisions. Disciplinary measures may include removing a practitioner’s name from the role, suspending the practitioner, issuing a reprimand, requiring a written apology or compensation, or other “reasonable” measures.
Speaking last year, Attorney General Baba Aziz called the tribunal “critical.”
“It is important as legal professionals to reflect on the ideals of our noble profession,” he said.