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Mar 12, 2013

Minister Sedi Elrington says compulsory membership in the Bar is unconstitutional

Wilfred Elrington

There is a proposal tonight for a monumental change in the Legal Profession Act. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Kenneth Benjamin, has been informed by the Solicitor General about a proposed bill which would amend the Legal Profession Act to “remove the requirement of compulsory membership by attorneys-at-law to the Bar Association of Belize.” It’s the handiwork of Attorney General and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington. Once and if the bill is passed, Elrington says that it is unconstitutional to force attorneys to be members of the Bar to be able to practice and frankly, he felt that the Bar was not up to par with its duties.


Wilfred Elrington, Attorney General

“It is unconstitutional for any person to be compelled to belong to any organization. We should have freedom of association. If we want to belong to it fine; if we don’t want to belong to it, fine. But we can’t have a piece of legislation which says that if you are a member, if you get admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of Belize, you also have to become a member of the Bar Association. We should be free to decide whether we want to be a member of the Bar Association. Being a member of the Bar Association is separate and apart from having the right to practice law before the Supreme Court; it is two different things.”


Jose Sanchez

“I know we’ve seen cases in both the sugar and citrus industries where other Belize Citrus Mutual and a new/rogue sugar organization came on the scene. Do you see this case as being similar, can these cases be quoted?”


Wilfred Elrington

“That is the precedence; we are just following the precedence really. Really and truly, those precedence should have been established by the Bar Association; we should have seen to it, we are the lawyers, we know the law; we know it is unconstitutional. We should not have to be following the citrus association and the sugar association. But that is symptomatic of the Belize Bar Association—we have done very little for ourselves and for our membership. And so we think it is time that those who don’t want to be associated with it be freed from it.”


Jose Sanchez

“But you yourself are not associated with the Bar Association?”


Wilfred Elrington

“I stopped attending meetings years ago. I found it to be a very stultifying organization. I found nothing to commend it. I thought that the dues I had to be paying was wasted money. Ideally a Bar Association should promote the interest of the membership. It is one of these organizations that is established for the specific purpose of advancing the interest of the members. How does a bar association help its members? It gives lectures, seminars; it teaches you how to interpret the new legislation that is being passed on a daily basis; it helps you to properly deplore yourself in court and outside of court; it helps you to enhance your performance with respect to your clients and your client’s assets; and it also has a role to discipline you when you err or fall out of favor.”


Jose Sanchez

“To explore the political angle, some critics may say the timing is near where the new President of the Bar, Mister Eamon Courtenay, and you were at odds regarding the whole ICJ, Belize/Guatemala and some comments he wrote recently in the news.”


Wilfred Elrington

“No. I think Mr. Courtenay or those who make that comment are too preoccupied with Mr. Courtenay. He had nothing to do with it. The bill was drafted some years ago. I gave instruction for it to be dealt with three years ago. How it came to a head this time—and I didn’t know really that it was coming to a head—but it came about because of a demand that was being made of the Treasurer of the Bar that the government pay for his legal counsels, the Bar Association fee for the legal counsels. And that Bar Association fee was not being paid. And when I inquired why it was not being paid, it was because we had this bill pending which seeks to correct the anomaly whereby we have to belong to an organization, which is unconstitutional.”

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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4 Responses for “Minister Sedi Elrington says compulsory membership in the Bar is unconstitutional”

  1. Belize not Belice not Guatemala says:

    I would feel hard done If I was a teacher and there was a law which said I had to be a member of some teacher’s association so that I can work . even though I have all the qualifications and licences to be a teacher. I think this proposal is good because no body wants to be a part of something they do not feel represents thier interests. I will be waiting to hear the Bar say “this proposed law to change the mandatory requirement to be a member of the Bar Association is unconstitutional.” Sort of like a Ninth Amendment Consultation redux.

  2. Retired CEO says:

    Sedi is absolutely correct, no one needs an organization as a showboat to bigup their socio-economic status. Lawyers need a real viable organization that will look out for their best interest, which will enhance the law profession on a whole, while setting certain professional standards and guidelines with a vision for the jewel. Currently it appears as if we are always looking forward to importing certain law professionals to fill vacancies in the legal system. The bar association should conduct needed continuing educational programs, seminars on the constitution coupled with recommnedations for new legislation, disciplinary actions, lectures at universities and even some scholarships for law students etc, etc.

  3. alley cat says:

    I am not an attorney, but I agree with this how many times have we seen these complaints go no where? If the Bar Association decides who practices then it also decides who is admonished, suspended or disbarred. I am willing to bet some money that there are a whole heap of complaints that have just gone no. How many times have we seen Mr. Saldivar on TV making excuses about how he handled his trust account.

  4. Gone fishing says:

    If it is unconstitutional. Stop.
    Is that not what the courts decide?

    If they want to change the law, they control the legislature and will write law and change he constitution as they please. Not much stopping their whims.

    Could be another way for GOB to control the attorneys, make them beholding to the civil servants who will control their license renewal.

    How many and which countries don’t do it the way Belize has done it for decades?
    When did this become a big constitutional problem?

    Not a lawyer. Found a reliable one, probably a few more exist, the others contacted seem to be arrogant, unrealistic, and parasites. Lawyering in Belize at times seems to be a part time job, next to getting in on the next big mony deal. Justice, doing the correct moral thing, rates below money.

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