President of the Grenada Bar Association (GBA), Ruggles Ferguson has outlined the steps to be followed by the public for disciplinary action to be taken against any delinquent lawyer operatig in the country.
Ferguson outlined the procedures during an address delivered to mark Law Week 2014 which ran from November 2-7.
He said that the complaints will have to be channelled through the General Legal Council (GLC) which is believed to be non-functional at the moment.
According to the GBA boss, efforts are currently underway to get the body functioning.
Following is the full text of Ferguson’s address:
Law Week 2014 runs from November 2nd to 7th under the theme, “Professional Conduct: Counsel’s Duty of Care”.
The week, which began on Sunday (Nov.2nd) with a Church Service at the St. George’s Presbyterian Church followed by a totally local breakfast for lawyers, features radio and television programmes; a pro bono day (free legal consultation) in St. John’s; an essay competition for secondary students focusing on the pros and cons of constitutional reform; visits to the Magistrate’s and High Courts by students of sixteen (16) secondary schools throughout the country; school visits by lawyers to secondary schools in Carriacou; a monetary donation to the Lupus Donation; and a moot competition (mock trial) among T.A.Marryshow Community College law students featuring the Caribbean Court Of Justice (CCJ).
The week ends with a lawyers get-together at the Grenada Yacht Club on Friday (Nov 7th).
Law Week aims to promote public legal education and provides an ideal opportunity for lawyers to extend a helping hand to the public in an organised and structured manner.
UNDERSTANDING THE LEGAL PROFESSION ACT
Consistent with the theme, much focus will be given in media programmes this week on informing, educating and sensitising the public, and indeed our own members, on the provisions of the Legal Profession Act (LPA), which was assented to by the Governor-General on November 15th, 2011.
The LPA provides for the regulation of the legal profession. It lays down the rules of practice, sets out standards of professional conduct, opens avenues to receive complaints of clients and the public, establishes a structure for disciplinary action, and imposes penalties for breaches of professional conduct.
Section 3 of the LPA recognizes the GBA. It mandates the GBA to maintain and improve the standards of conduct of its members; to represent and protect the interests of the legal profession; and to promote good relations within the profession. It requires the GBA to promote, support and maintain the administration of justice and the rule of law.
To better serve and protect the public, lawyers are required to engage in continuing legal education, secure professional indemnity insurance, separate clients’ and operating accounts, and adhere to the standards of professional conduct enshrined in the Code of Ethics.
CREATING A GENERAL LEGAL COUNCIL
An important creation of the LPA is the General Legal Council (GLC) which is charged with regulating and upholding standards of professional conduct within the legal profession.
The GLC comprises seven (7) members, including nominees of the Chief Justice, the Conference of Churches, the Governor-General and the GBA.
The Attorney-General, or the Solicitor-General in his absence, also sits on the GLC which is chaired by the nominee of the Chief Justice (a sitting or retired Judge).
Of significance is the opportunity given for at least three lay persons (non-lawyers) to sit on the committee by means of nominations from the Grenada Conference of Churches and the Governor-General.
Efforts are now being made to reconstitute the GLC whose first Chairman (Justice Monica Joseph) resigned to take up other duties. In more recent times, one member migrated and another passed away. The GBA continues its efforts to have the GLC reconstituted soonest.
CHANNELLING CLIENT COMPLAINTS
Client complaints are to be channeled to the GLC. A client claiming to be aggrieved by an act of professional misconduct by an Attorney-at-Law may make an application to the GLC requiring the offending Attorney-at-Law to answer the allegations.
An affidavit of facts must accompany the application. Someone other than a client who feels aggrieved must first obtain leave of the GLC to pursue a complaint. Further, the GLC, on its own motion, may initiate an investigation with respect to the conduct of an Attorney-at-Law. A Judge too may refer a matter to the GLC if, in dealing with a matter before the court, he considers that an act of professional misconduct has been committed.
Time limits are imposed for bringing a complaint to the GLC. No complaint may be brought after three (3) years from the date of occurrence of the facts giving rise to the complaint or from the date of knowledge of the facts giving rise to the complaint.
The LPA sets out clear procedures for making complaints. The facts giving rise to the allegations against the Attorney-at-Law must be contained in a sworn affidavit. Further, the application to the GLC requiring the Attorney-at-Law to answer the allegations contained in the affidavit must be in writing.
POWERS OF THE GENERAL LEGAL COUNCIL
What are the options open to the GLC upon the receipt of applications?
Where no prima facie case is made out against the Attorney-at-Law (no case established on the face of the documents), the GLC may dismiss the application. It may do so without requiring the Attorney-at-Law to answer the allegations.
In those circumstances, within seven (7) days of the application being made, both the applicant and the Attorney-at-Law must be notified of its dismissal.
Where a prima facie case is shown, the GLC fixes a date for hearing the application. No less than forty-two (42) days before the hearing of the application the Attorney-at-Law complained against must be served with a copy of the application and affidavit.
Responsibility for service of those documents rests with the Secretary of the GLC, being the Registrar of the Supreme Court. No less than fourteen (14) days before the hearing both parties are required to furnish the GLC, and to exchange with each other, a list of documents intended to be relied upon.
Upon hearing an application, the GLC may exercise a range of powers.
It may dismiss the application if not satisfied that the allegations constitute professional misconduct.
If satisfied that the allegations constitute professional misconduct, penalties range from reprimanding the Attorney-at-Law; ordering payment of compensation or reimbursement of monies to aggrieved persons; making costs orders; and suspending the Practising Certificate of the Attorney-at-Law.
The power to disbar or strike an Attorney-at-Law from the roll rests only with the High Court presided over by two (2) judges, following an application by the GLC.
If not satisfied with the decision of the GLC, a party has a right of appeal directly to the Court of Appeal.
INCORPORATING CODE OF ETHICS
A critical feature of the LPA is its incorporation of a Code of Ethics (‘the Code’) which spells out the standards of professional conduct expected of an Attorney-at-Law.
The Code imposes duties and obligations upon an Attorney–at-Law in relation to the State and himself; in relation to the State and the public; in relation to clients; in relation to the courts and the administration of justice; and in relation to his fellow Attorneys-at-Law.
The Code speaks to Attorneys preserving their independence of judgment in the discharge of professional responsibilities; always acting in the best interest of clients; maintaining the ‘supreme traditions’ of the profession by being persons of ‘integrity and dignity; scrupulously guarding clients confidentiality; avoiding conflicts of interests; refraining from conduct which is detrimental to the profession; and representing clients honestly, honourably, competently and zealously.
SHOULDERING HEAVY BURDEN
An Attorney-at-Law shoulders a heavy burden in the discharge of his professional responsibilities. The Code mandates him to defend the interest of his client ‘without fear of judicial disfavour or public unpopularity and without regard to any unpleasant consequences to himself or to any other person’.
He is duty bound to undertake the defence of a person accused of a crime, regardless of his own personal opinion as to the person’s guilt. Having undertaken such defence, an Attorney is bound by all fair and honourable means, to present every appropriate defence that the law of the land permits, so that no person may be deprived of life or liberty ‘except by due process of the law’.
WORKING TOGETHER WITH CLIENTS
Attorneys are urged to familiarise themselves with the provisions of the LPA. Work together with and in the best interests of your clients. Communication minimizes conflict.
For members of the public who are unable to resolve conflicts with their Attorneys, complaints may be channeled, as aforementioned, to the GLC via its Secretary whose address is the Supreme Court Registry (St. George’s).
The GBA shall continue to promote public legal education to empower citizens through Law Week and other fora; and to design and promote Continuing Legal Education programmes for our members in order to consistently improve the quality of legal service available to the public.
We look forward to reduced complaints and greater harmony between Attorney and client.