Ruggles Ferguson takes over the regional bar

Attorney Ruggles Ferguson – elected to the top post of the OECS Bar

A former President of the Grenada Bar Association is now the new President of the OECS Bar Association.

Ruggles Ferguson, who served as President of the Grenada Bar for seven consecutive years (2001-2008), was elected unanimously at the Biennial meeting of the OECS Bar held over the weekend in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

He succeeds Tapley Seaton Q.C., a former long serving Attorney-General of the Federation of St. Kitts and Nevis, who has been at the helm of the organisation for the last four years.
Ferguson is the first person from the Grenada Bar Association to hold the post of President since the sub-regional body was established 23 years ago. He served as 1st Vice President for the last four years.

Other members of the newly elected executive are First Vice-President, Betram Commissiong Q.C of the St. Vincent & the Grenadines Bar, Second Vice-President, Thaddeus Antoine of the St. Lucia Bar, Secretary Yvette Wallace of the Anguilla Bar and Treasurer Jean Dyer also of the Anguilla Bar.

Tapley Seaton Q.C of the St Kitts & Nevis Bar remains on the Executive as the Immediate Past President.

Two representatives, including the President of each of the nine constituent Bar Associations, together with the Executive members, comprise the Council of the OECS Bar which meets quarterly in a different jurisdiction.

The OECS Bar is the umbrella body representing the nine countries that make up the sub-regional grouping – Anguilla, Antigua, British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Montserrat, St. Kitts & Nevis, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent & the Grenadines.

Other activities of the OECS Bar over the weekend in St Vincent & the Grenadines included its 9th Regional Law Fair and a Joint Symposium with the Judicial Education Institute (JEI) of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court on Professional Ethics.
One of the first acts of the new President was to deliver a key-note address at the opening of law year 2012-13 at the high court in St. Vincent & The Grenadines.

As a public service, THE NEW TODAY reproduces the historic speech as delivered by Ferguson to the bar in the neighbouring OEAS territory:

“The Opening of Law Year 2012 comes at the heels of a very successful weekend of activities including the 9th Regional Law Fair on Friday (Sep. 14th), the now annual Joint Symposium hosted by the Judicial Education Institute (JEI) and the OECS Bar on Saturday morning, the Biennial Meeting of the OECS Bar on Saturday afternoon, and several social activities spread over a three day period.

Our 9th Regional Law Fair was again a resounding success with attorneys throughout the sub-region engaging, discussing, and debating a range of legal topics touching and concerning the Civil Procedure Rules; Anti-Money Laundering and Anti-Terrorism laws affecting our region;  the rights of minority shareholders in companies; the professional obligations of lawyers when dealing with clients, particularly in criminal matters; and  the role of the recently established OECS Regional Assembly  in the integration process.

Our very interactive and stimulating Joint Symposium on Saturday focused  on  the several facets of Professional Ethics. It was comprehensively prepared and thoroughly  presented by Justice of Appeal Alice York Soo Hon of the Trinidad and Tobago Court of Appeal, complete with humorous illustrations and several cases from all levels of the court.
It is a must read for practitioners and we are endeavoring to get copies of the power point presentation for the widest circulation to Attorneys.

NEW EXECUTIVE

Coming out of the Biennial meeting on Saturday (Sep 15th) a new executive was elected to lead and co-ordinate the work of the Association over the next two years. It  comprises Ruggles Ferguson as President;  Bertram Commissiong Q.C.  as 1st Vice President; Thaddeus Antoine as 2nd Vice President; Yvette Wallace as Secretary; and Jean Dyer as Treasurer. Tapley Seaton Q.C remains on the Executive as Immediate Past President.
Let me take this opportunity to publicly thank Queens Counsel Seaton for his calm and steady leadership of the Association over the past four (4) years.
Members of this new executive all come with a proven record of commitment to the growth and development of the OECS Bar and with extensive organisational experience. They have all been exposed to the rigours of leadership, both at their respective  local Bars and the OECS Bar.
The Executive, together with the respective Presidents and another nominee of each constituent Bar, will constitute the Council of the OECS Bar.
Let me take this opportunity to again thank the St. Vincent  & the Grenadines Bar for a wonderful weekend and a particularly fabulous trip to Bequia on Sunday.
Special thanks to the indefatigable Nicole Sylvester, our Law Fair Co-ordinator, who worked tirelessly to ensure the huge success of the weekend events and who, in characteristic style, ensured that we received the best Vincentian hospitality.
Remarkably, we were still able to get the best out of Nicole notwithstanding her many serious challenges over the past year, including her loss of both parents in relatively quick succession. Well done Nicole.

CONGRATULATIONS CHIEF JUSTICE

Let me take this opportunity also to record warm congratulations to our very calm, composed and competent newly appointed Chief Justice, the Hon Janice Pereira – the first female in the OECS to be appointed to this lofty position.
Often times, you hear dissenting voices regarding appointments to high office, the office of Chief Justice being no exception. In this case I’ve heard none. On the contrary I have heard a chorus of concurring voices in recognition of the scholarship, judicial wisdom, ability to listen, and humility of our new Chief Justice.
We also wish to take this opportunity to congratulate you Justice Blenman and you Justice Michel on your permanent elevation to the Court of Appeal.
I cannot help but note that apart from the noted judicial wisdom of our last four Chief Justices – Justices Saunders, Alleyne, Rawlins and now Pereira –  whether confirmed or serving in acting capacities – they were all great listeners, showed respect for Attorneys, demonstrated humility and never allowed the power of the office to get to their heads.
We urge judicial officers at all levels to embrace these outstanding attributes.
We must always remember that the legal system is not for judges and lawyers and for those employed in the system. It’s for the people. We are merely there to serve.

EFFICIENCY & INTEGRITY

Chief Justice, your choice of theme “Improving Efficiency and Integrity in the Administration of Justice in times of Economic Adversity” fittingly recognises the  serious economic challenges we continue to face in this sub-region. Indeed, improving efficiency calls for cutting back on wastage, ongoing training of Registry staff, keeping abreast and constantly embracing new technology, proper and advanced scheduling of court matters at all levels of the court, enhancing the mediation infrastructure throughout the sub-region, more timely delivery of judgments, and giving more focus to enforcement mechanisms to ensure that litigants receive the fruits of their judgments.
Enhancing the integrity of the profession, on the other hand, calls for ongoing training and sensitisation of our Attorneys on the ethics of the profession, ensuring the passage of Legal Profession Acts in all nine jurisdictions of the OECS, promoting public legal education, utilising the various avenues of communication (electronic and otherwise) to build a better and more consistent rapport between Attorneys and clients, and ensuring greater transparency and accountability within the profession,

LOBBYING FOR THE JUDICIARY

Twenty-three (23) years ago our founding fathers came together for the purpose of lobbying Governments to improve the terms and conditions of members of our judiciary. We recorded success then. Out of those initiatives the OECS Bar was born, expanding its mission to include the protection of human rights, the preservation of the rule of law, the promotion of access to justice, and the organisation of the nine constituent bars under a single regional umbrella body.
Today, 23 years later, we are again coming together in Dominica (in November 2012) to specifically look at the terms and conditions under which members of our judiciary serve – their accommodation, their security, their salaries, their administrative support, their pension benefits.
One of our hard working past presidents, Courtney Abel, has prepared a comprehensive paper for discussion.
We shall be looking at the different components of the entire package available or which ought to be made available to members of our judiciary. Thereafter we shall engage the sub-regional governments to make it happen.

SALUTE FOUNDING FATHERS

We wish to salute the founding fathers and all those who contributed to the growth and development of the OECS Bar. Yours have been a labour of love, a commitment to cause, a dedication to duty. How else could you describe those who, year after year, attend meetings, pay their own air fares, pay their own meals and incidentials, pay their own hotel accommodation and other related expenses – all in the interest of building a strong regional organisation for the common good of all members of the profession and the people of the sub-region.
Twenty-three (23) years after our founding fathers conceived this organisation, we have moved from periodic meetings to fully structured meetings every quarter in a different jurisdiction. Now, when the OECS Bar Council meets every quarter, the constituent Bar hosting the meeting is required to host a continuing legal education (CLE) programme for local lawyers.
In other words, the entire Saturday mornings are reserved for CLE programmes and the Saturday afternoons for discussing and seeking to resolve the common issues facing constituent Bars.

APPLAUD INITIATIVES

Madame Chief Justice, we applaud the initiative of the court to become proactive in the area of public legal education, through your proposed outreach programmes. The OECS Bar also intends to place public legal education  high on the agenda of its new two year programme.
As part of that process, I intend to propose for adoption the introduction of a Law Week in all nine (9) jurisdictions before the end of this Law Term.
Justice David Souter, Retired Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the U.S., while delivering the keynote address at the Opening Assembly of the American Bar Association in Chicago in 2009, noted that civic education is crucial to preserving an independent judiciary.
Pointing to a recent poll that showed that 2/3 of Americans can’t name the three branches of Government – executive, legislative and judicial – Justice Souter warned that the failure of many Americans to understand how the government work poses a serious threat.
“There is a danger to judicial independence when people have no understanding of how the judiciary fits into the constitutional scheme”, he noted.
We also note your continued embrace of technology in an effort to make the court more productive, effective and efficient. In that regard, we welcome the introduction of e-filing.
We urge practitioners to ‘get with the programme’: get in tune with the technology, set aside some time to learn the relevant software, maximise your productivity.  Older practitioners, in particular, must remove mental blocks and make the technology work for them.
Madame Chief Justice, we also welcome your emphasis on greater access to justice for citizens, your calls for mentoring young lawyers and continued professionalisation of the Bar, and your commitment to make the Halls of Justice project a reality.
The OECS Bar shall endeavor to put effective systems in place for the guidance and mentoring of young Attorneys.

IMPROVE EXISTING FACILITIES

We recognise the strategic importance of the Halls of Justice project. Most jurisdictions are crying out for modern and well equipped courts. While we await these modern facilities though, immediate attention needs to be given to improving some of our existing facilities now, not later.
Short term solutions need to be found even while we work on long term plans. In Grenada, for example, the use of the Mediation Centre for the monthly visit of the Master poses serious challenges. Attorneys handling the various matters are usually packed like sardines into a small room, waiting, at times, for hours until their matters are called.
These Attorneys are unable to properly and privately consult their clients, fettered by the absence of adequate space.
Litigants, on the other hand, have to stand on the steps, and sometimes on the side of the road, waiting for hours until their matters are called. Similar examples exist in other jurisdictions. Urgent cost-effective steps need to be taken to correct these shortcomings.

ESTABLISH BAR-BENCH COMMITTEES

In my capacity as President of Grenada Bar, I advocated for many years the formation of a Bench-Bar Committee so that the various stakeholders could come together and collectively approach common issues affecting the administration of justice.  It eventually became a reality in 2008.
All the stakeholders in the justice system including Judges, Bar Association, Attorney-General, Registrar, and the Ministry of Legal Affairs (through its Permanent Secretary) constitute the Bench-Bar Committee.
One of its early projects was the training of Registry Staff in all facets of the job, including an understanding of relevant rules and procedures and good customer service techniques.
Madame Chief Justice, I wish to strongly recommend, as a priority in the upcoming Law Year, the formation of Bench-Bar committees in the other eight (8) jurisdictions, using the Grenada model and developing it even further.

INSTITUTIONALISE LAW WEEK

This Law Year I shall also be advocating strongly for the institutionalisation of a Law Week in all nine (9) jurisdictions of the OECS, modeled after the Grenada experience.
Law Week in Grenada sees lawyers visiting schools to sensitise students about the Constitution and different aspects of the law; visiting the prisons and police stations to experience first-hand the conditions under which prisoners and detainees are kept and to engage officials on relevant issues; providing free legal consultations on designated Pro-bono days; and appearing on radio and television programmes to speak on relevant legal topics of interest to the general public; facilitating lower versus upper sixth form debate among students at the local community college; and engaging in friendly cricket encounters with police prosecutors and doctors.
During the week, students also visit court houses throughout the country to experience first-hand the court in action.

KEY AREAS OF FOCUS

In my capacity as President, I intend to focus on certain key areas including continuing legal education for Attorneys, public legal education, passage and implementation of legal profession acts in all jurisdictions, and professional indemnity insurance for all Attorneys.
We need to promote teamwork, create institutionalised programmes (like Law Week) and involve the widest cross-section of Attorneys in the work of the OECS Bar.
We also need to pursue an individual membership drive to strengthen the membership base of the OECS Bar and develop a well-rounded package of benefits and incentives for individual members.

CALL TO ACTION

Colleague attorneys throughout the sub-region must become more proactive.  Don’t just recognise and complain about the problem, be part of the solution. Don’t just sit back and complain about how much your Bar Association is not doing. Step forward and do something. Play an active role. Make suggestions. Make a difference. Join a sub-committee. Encourage your colleagues to become part of the solution.
Local Bar Associations must also become more efficient, more proactive, more organised, and more creative in energising the membership base. It is often very easy to give up in the face of constant criticisms, lack of support from members, and lack of appreciation for the time and resources expended to make things happen, especially in the context of your own busy schedules, your purely voluntary contributions and sacrifices, and the constant challenges of staying afloat in these economically challenging times.
Don’t be daunted by the critics and the naysayers. In fact, listen to the critics and even try to get them on board. Let them strengthen, not weaken, your own resolve to get the work done.

RENEW PLEDGE

Madame Chief Justice, let me renew the pledge of the OECS Bar to continue to work with the bench to uphold the rule of law and to make the justice system more accessible to the man in the street.
We pledge also to continue to defend the independence of the judiciary, to work towards improving the terms and conditions of service for our judiciary, to sensitise the public on our constitutions and our laws, and to work closely with all stakeholders to strengthen and modernise the administration of justice.
We wish all a productive, stimulating and successful Law Year!”

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