In late 2015, lawmakers passed the Legal Profession Act, which revamped the rules governing the territory’s legal practitioners.
Section 27 of the legislation 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.
The tribunal would be charged with “upholding standards of professional conduct and enforcing the code of ethics” for lawyers, according to the act, which also includes that code.
More than two years later, however, no such tribunal exists.
Instead, clients who have issues with their representation are faced with a much less clear system: If they believe they have been cheated out of their money by a lawyer, they are encouraged to go to the police, according to Jacqueline Daley-Aspinall, a partner at Harneys.
If their complaint falls more along the lines of conflict-of-interest issues or non-criminal professional misconduct, Ms. Daley-Aspinall tries to deal with it in her capacity as president of the BVI Bar Association. She has also ended up fielding criminal complaints, however, which she says should be going to the attorney general.
The informal system leaves her without any real regulatory teeth and simply “appealing to the better place” of lawyers who are complained about.
Ms. Daley-Aspinall has called for the activation of the tribunal and said she isn’t sure what has caused the delay: The BVIBA was given the responsibility to nominate one practitioner to the seven-person tribunal, something it did almost two years ago.
Attorney General Baba Aziz, who is supposed to be in charge of nominating one and appointing five of the tribunal’s seven members, could not be reached for comment about why it has not yet been activated.
Complaints about legal practitioners are not common here, though they do happen, according to Ms. Daley-Aspinall: Last year, she received six of them, five of which she considered legitimate.
The bigger issue is not the number of complaints but that often “the offenders are repeat offenders,” she explained.
A tribunal could provide a better framework for addressing issues certain lawyers seem to cause repetitively, according to the president. As described in the law, the tribunal would have the power to impose a variety of penalties, including fines, suspension and compensation.
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 and the BVIBA are also given the responsibility of nominating one tribunal member each, subject to appointment by the attorney general. Additionally, the attorney general gets to nominate one person as well.