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Oct 7, 2014

Matura-Shepherd Calls Legal Act Amendments Misguided

Wilfred "Sedi" Elrington

On Wednesday the Senate will pass the bill for amendments to the Legal Profession Act, which means two things, really – one is that membership in the Bar Association will no longer be compulsory for an attorney to practice law in Belize. And the other is that the composition of the General Legal Council, the body which hears complaints against attorneys, will be changed. The amendments have drawn criticism from various members of the Bar Association, but have received the outspoken support of Prime Minister Dean Barrow and Attorney-General Wilfred Elrington. Today, another attorney weighed in on the matter. Audrey Matura-Shepherd doesn’t argue that the Bar Association needs some work, but says that what G.O.B. is planning is definitely not what’s needed.

 

Audrey Matura-Shepherd, Attorney

Audrey Matura-Shepherd

“As a member of the Bar, I am disappointed. I am disappointed because the same attorneys who are pushing the Attorney General, who is pushing for this change and the prime minister himself, they are senior members of the Bar. They were there for eons now since the Bar has been in existence and the statements they have made publicly is their confession of saying to us, the younger attorneys before the Bar, that they failed us because the Bar is where it is right now not because of us who just joined but because of them who have been in it all along. Now they are seeking to solve the problem they say, but I’m sorry, I think it is more of a problem that they are creating. I don’t think that dismantling the Bar the way they are doing is the best thing; I have been a member before the Bar now eight years and I see a lot of problems with the Bar. I have been one of those few attorneys that have written to the Bar many time of the changes that I would want to see, but it is not the changes that I see that legislation is bringing about. I can name at least two major changes that I would have wanted to see and one of them is that we no longer self-police ourselves. I have a problem when there is a complaint against an attorney. It is the same set of attorneys who then hear the matter. I don’t think that that’s fair. I’ve always been one that I want it to be like it is done in Jamaica where the attorney is taken to a weekend court, a Saturday court, and brought before a judge and there and then they make the decision. Under the system that we have, the complaint is made to the General Legal Counsel, who then doesn’t issue a sanction, recommends one to the Chief Justice and the Chief Justice decides if it will be granted; that sanction will be implemented or not. I have a problem with that. I think it should be clear cut. An attorney who does wrong to anyone else should be dealt with just like any common criminal; we are not above the law. As a matter of fact, we should be held at a higher standard. That recommendation that is being passed right now by this government does not solve the problem; they’ve created another problem. And the truth be told, the present sitting Attorney General has several complaint before the Bar. I think he should not have allowed himself to be brought into that fray. He should not have been the one dismantling the Bar; he should have made the process work. That is my opinion. It doesn’t look well for the highest level attorney in this country and remember, he is the titular head of the Bar. So any complaints he makes of the Bar, falls right in his laps.”

 

As we told you, the matter will be heard in the Senate on Wednesday, where it will no doubt be approved by the majority on government’s side of the Senate. 

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