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#459794 - 03/09/13 02:07 PM GOB vs. BAR
Marty Offline
Wilfred Elrington is making major news again tonight, but this time not as Foreign Minister, but as Attorney General - and this time he's going up against no less than the Bar Association.

According to a letter printed in the Belize Times today, Solicitor General Cheryl Krusen has written to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court saying that she has been instructed by the Attorney General to send a proposed bill which proposes to amend the Legal Profession Act to quote, "remove the requirement of compulsory membership by attorneys at law to the Bar Association of Belize."

That would be a seismic shift for the legal profession because presently all lawyers who wish to practice in Belize mustbe members of the Bar Association. The bill proposes to relegate the Bar to being only one of multiple professional bodies representing the legal profession.

It is of note that the Supreme Court has ruled that persons cannot be compelled to be members of any group - because it denies them their constitutionally assured freedom of association. This has been well established by those same lawyers in the Citrus Industry where the CGA's monopoly on membership was nullified by the courts.

The bill also proposes to change-up the composition of the General Legal Council - giving the AG the power to appoint all members, whereas the Bar currently appoints the majority. The general Legal Council is the body where, among other things, complaints against lawyers can be made. Their conviction rate against their brother and sister bar members hovers very close to 0%.

Nontheless, like any club whose monopoly on membership is threatened, it appears that the Bar - led by President Eamon Courtenay - is going to fight it tooth and nail.

The judiciary has been asked to give its comments by next week Friday - but we expect that this one will also be playing out in the court of public opinion.

Channel 7

#459829 - 03/09/13 05:38 PM Re: GOB vs. BAR [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
Because the Bar Association is stacked with PUP
Belize based travel specialist

#460085 - 03/13/13 01:58 PM Re: GOB vs. BAR [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

AG Says Bar Association Needs To Raise The Bar

On Friday we told you about the proposed legislation from the Attorney General's Office to seriously shake things up in the legal profession. The legislation would make it so that lawyers would no longer be legally required to be part of the bar association of Belize.

Many in the bar see it as a threat - because it removes their monopoly on practicing membership in the legal profession. Today Attorney General Elrington told us the Bar needs a wake-up call:

Hon. Wilfred Elrington - Attorney General of Belize
"We are convinced that as it is presently constituted, the legal profession act is unconstitutional as it relates to the requirement that all members of the profession have to belong to the Bar Association. Under the constitution, we have freedom of association; we should not have to belong to the bar association. We should belong to the bar association if we want to. But presently, we are forced to belong to it and we're also forced to pay dues to it at the beginning of every year as a condition of our membership."

Jules Vasquez
"However, is this a UDP-PUP schism? So far as I know, whether it's right or wrong, the Bar is perceived as being a PUP based Bar. The Prime Minister said this in the House; that the PUP controls the Bar - whether or not that is a fact is another matter, but is that why this approach is being taken?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"In my case, certainly as the Attorney General, that is not the approach. The PUP, UDP situation does not affect me. What affects me is that, we are forced to belong to an organization that's supposed to represent the interest of attorneys at law. You are forced to pay dues, but the organization does little, if anything, to promote the interest of attorneys at law. I can say that since 1977- since I became an attorney in 1977, I've been paying dues every year while am in private practice. I can't show you what I've gotten from the dues. I don't drink whiskey; I don't drink rum. I don't drink beer so when they have their annual functions, I don't go and I don't participate in those things. The Bar does nothing else; it has never come out in favor of anything to enhance the standard and performance of the members of the Bar. I personally don't want to belong to the Bar Association, and I can tell you that I have stopped attending Bar Association meetings from about the 70's, or early 80's."

Jules Vasquez
"However you can't make legislation based on your own proclivities."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"The leadership of the Association - is limited to a few families. You check it; over the years, although now we have over 100 attorneys, it's the same few families like musical chairs who are elected as presidents you can't change that it seems."

Jules Vasquez
"Would the Prime Minister for example, A: known to be more traditional than you are - you are known to be contrary an untraditional, and B: he is from one of those families who you assort has rotational leadership of the bar association."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I can't speak for the Prime Minister but I can tell you that the Prime Minister is in agreement with the proposal that we amend the law so that it is consistent with our constitution. He is fully in support of the proposal, and so what this legislation is seeking to do, among other things, is to make it so that it becomes a discretionary thing as to whether or not a young attorney belongs to the Bar or not. If he chooses to belong to the Bar Association, he can join it and then pay the dues. If he doesn't want to belong to the Bar Association, he can refrain from becoming a member and don't pay the dues. I personally don't want to be a member of the Bar Association, and I don't want to pay dues to that organization because I get nothing for the money I pay to it."

Jules Vasquez
"However then, is this self-interest legislation, because you don't want to do it you craft legislation around that?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"This is legislation which will allow all attorneys to exercise their constitutional right to belong or not to belong."

Jules Vasquez
"It is an institution, whose monopoly on the legal practice in Belize servers a purpose in that it gets everybody - all the legal professionals - into one group for the advancement of the practice of law in Belize. When the Bar speaks, it speaks to all legal professions and it carries weight for example: when it spoke out against the ninth amendment."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I don't think it was very successful in that regard. They tried their best to derail the Government initiatives in a matter that was so important to the nation and to the people of Belize, getting back your natural resources. But the Bar, to my mind, on that occasion choose to side - take sides with their wealthy clients against the people of Belize; that was my perception."

Jules Vasquez
"Is that what really caused the split between your Government and the Bar?"

Hon. Wilfred Elirington
"No, I am telling you that in my case. I stop attending Bar Association meetings from the 70's or the 80's, because I thought that the Association was a waste of time. So -"

Jules Vasquez
"Yes, but you said; 3 or 4 years now you've been working on this ideation on this legislation."

Hon. Wilfred Vasquez
"I gave instructions for the bill to be brought when I got into Government, shortly after I got into government because it's something that worries me."

Jules Vasquez
"I get the impression that the Government will have its way."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"The Government has the power to pass the legislation, but don't you think that the Government should want to correct an unconstitutional situation? Isn't that the responsibility of Government?"

Jules Vasquez
"Will there be an exodus from the bar of the UDP members: The Pitts, The Elringtons?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I do not know how many of those names you called are at present attending Bar Association meeting; that's the thing. The Bar Association is not well supported. Lots of people are not happy with it; it is not functioning. It is functioning in name alone. The Bar Association needs to be shaken up if it wants to attract members; it needs to be reform. It needs to start working in the best interest of the members, from whom it has been collecting money all these years; you can't collect people's money and do nothing for them."

Under the new configuration, lawyers would not be compelled to be a member of any professional association.

Another aspect of the legislation says that the Attorney General would appoint the members of the General Legal Council - which is the disciplinary body for the legal profession. Elrington says though that is in the law, he would not support it:

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"I will not support the AG appointing the members of the disciplinary committee."

Jules Vasquez
"You will not?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"No, it's not something that I would support. I think that - I think that if it's in the legislation, certainly when recommendation is made amend that, I would support that, because it's not a recommendation I would support. I think that it had got to be the General Legal Council - at present, because of the control that is exerted by certain families in the Bar Association at the present time, these same families control the General Legal Council. And to my mind, the General Legal Council has not been acting in consistence with the legal profession. I have had number of run-ins with them - when I say a number I had about 3 or 4 run-ins with them over the years. And I have had to point out to them that they're not acting in accordance with the law. The law stipulates how it should proceed."

Jules Vasquez
"Yes but, a matter is being pursued against you."

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"The intention is to have an institution - especially to something like the General Legal Council - as sanitized as possible. It must be as objective as possible, as you can possibly get it."

Jules Vasquez
"So then you do wish that the members in composition - the power of that be taken away from the bar?"

Hon. Wilfred Elrington
"The domination of it, yes; I think that I personally - and this was my suggestion. My last suggestion was I thought that the - I thought a suggestion in the bill that a judge should be made a member of the General Legal Council."

The President of the Bar Association, Eamon Courtenay says he will have a resPOnse after the bar meets on Monday. We understand Government intends to take the legislation to the House of Representative very soon.

Channel 7

#460115 - 03/13/13 05:50 PM Re: GOB vs. BAR [Re: Marty]
Katie Valk Offline
Aye, so now a lawyer for the govt can create a situation with the Bar Association, who will sue, as lawyers tend to do, and the people of Belize will have to pay to defend. Just money from one lawyers hands to another and it doesn't change anything. Waste of time and this Minister should move onto something that will benefit Belizeans and mind the country's biz.
Belize based travel specialist

#460194 - 03/14/13 02:23 PM Re: GOB vs. BAR [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

PM Says He's Ready To Leave Belize Bar Association

And while we had him today, we also asked the Prime Minister about he move to up-end the monopoly that the Bar Association has on legal practitioners.

He's a senior consel and a long stand member of the Bar, but while conceding that he has not yet reviewed the legislation, he agrees that the mandatory membership law has to go:

Prime Minister Dean Barrow - Prime Minister of Belize
"I think that is as it should be. We've seen that in so many other professional organizations, it's been held unconstitutionally. There can be no exclusivity. So, I don't see any problem with that at all. The Bar can continue. If some lawyers don't want to belong to the bar and start a law society, or start another bar, I can't see that there is a difficulty. I support that."

Jules Vasquez
"Would you remain a member of the bar?"

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"It would depend. If there - when I go back into practice - God willing - if there is a sensible move to start another association, and that move would come with plans that might suggest that there could be measureable improvement over the performance of the Bar Association, I would look at it. I would keep an opened mind."

Jules Vasquez
"The Attorney General has alleged that in fact, the Bar Association is like a club, and it's controlled by a few families. I believe those who have your family name are among that club, seeing that the current president, Eamon Courtenay, was nominated by your brother. So, I would assume that your family is a part of the club which controls it."

Prime Minister Dean Barrow
"Well, I believe what the Attorney General might also have wanted to say is that club is a club dominated by persons of a certain political stripe, even though it's not entirely monolithic, but no, that doesn't matter. The fact is that as a correct legal principle, there should not be that kind of exclusivity."

Channel 7

#460271 - 03/15/13 02:04 PM Re: GOB vs. BAR [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Attorney Dickie Bradley says the AG has hidden motives in attacking the Bar

Dickie Bradley

Attorney-General Wilfred Elrington has announced that he will be pushing through legislation to amend the Legal Profession Act. Elrington wants to remove the requirement that attorneys will have to join the Bar Association to practice. The proposal has come as a surprise and came to light when the Solicitor General recently wrote to the Chief Justice, Kenneth Benjamin and the Bar.  On Wednesday, no less than the Prime Minister Dean Barrow supported that decision by the AG, going further to state that if the Bar Association breaks up and another association forms he would join it. The Bar Association will meet on Monday to discuss the matter and issue a position, but until that happens attorneys have been weighing in. Today attorney Dickie Bradley called the proposed amendment a very bad move, with suspicious timing.

Dickie Bradley, Attorney

“I would think that the timing of this proposed legislation is because coming out of the mouth of the government, there are mostly P.U.P. in the Bar. That was a bad statement; that is not a reason to in fact basically break up an institution. The Bar Association is in every democratic country where there is the rule of law, the court, the practice of this particular profession. So the timing is extremely suspicious because what the proposed amendment would really do is in fact open the door for there to be a rival association, for there to be other associations which can’t be healthy. Although it is always healthy to have, you can still have that healthy discussion within any organization, which you do. And let me be a little mischievous and say to you that political parties in this country, there is no law that govern them. Financial donations and contributions to politicians and political parties, there is no law that governs them. we don’t know who is giving money to these political parties, how much, why they would want to do so. Who are these people who are donating money? How much money the political parties have to go and influence voters when an election si coming around. In case of the ninth amendment, people were saying that they were being paid to go and say I support the ninth amendment. So the timing has to be a matter of suspicion because the Bar Association would more than likely put out the views of the lawyers in relation to the matter. Now when the Bar is putting publicly its views and proposed legislation, it holds an open meeting for all lawyers; not a closed door meeting of just the executive or the so called P.U.P. members. It is open to all members and they all get copies of the draft circulated as for their input. You are getting a considered reasonable view of an organization. Now if what is being proposed takes place; that there can be other organizations, we will have the country have the views of the so called P.U.P. Bar and the views of the so called U.D.P. Bar. You would end up having no views; nobody pay attention because one wah di holla, oh dah the P.U.P. and the next one wah holla oh dah di U.D.P.”

And just as Bradley is convinced that the amendment to the Legal Profession Act will be pushed through at the earliest possible time, he is likewise convinced that there are ulterior motives for this sudden urgent move to break up the Bar.

Dickie Bradley

“I think it has to do with other motives; it can’t be—I am being a little cynical to say the poor lawyers in the association—the government has no interests ina di welfare and the wellbeing of lawyers and the association and so on. There is ulterior motives. There has to be man. The society is under tremendous stress. I just pointed out to you some areas that need attention; [and] there are lot more that need attention. If you are to go down right now to the Queen Street Police Station in Belize City, there are human beings including females who have to sleep on cold cement. Ina any civilized society, the police in carrying forward their duties must detain citizens; they must arrest citizens for the purpose of charging them for whatever. You mean we can’t even put a blanket on the cold cement. That is how bad it is and that happens all over the country you know—hundreds of citizens every week treated like animals. So there are a lot of things that really require the attention of the government including the same referendum. So yes they are pushing it through because the reason that they have publicly given is that they are P.U.P.”

This is an issue that will continue to develop and we’ll surely keep on top of it.

Channel 5

#460580 - 03/20/13 01:17 PM Re: GOB vs. BAR [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline

Bar President Courtenay Braces A-G Elrington

Last week you heard Attorney General Wilfred Elrington and Prime Minister Dean Barrow talk about the Bar Association. They both said it's unconstitutional because compulsory membership in any organization violates the freedom of association guaranteed by the constitution. So, end of story right? Well, not so fast.

The bar association met last night and today President Eamon Courtenay told us that freedom of association is not always that simple:

Eamon Courtenay - President, Bar Association of Belize
"Since this matter has been raised, some of our members have done some research, and have already found cases where this specific matter has come up, and it has been found not to be unconstitutional. If we have persons performing legal, and they are not going to be regulated by an association, by an independent body, it is not going to be beneficial to Belize. It is not going to be beneficial to clients; it is not going to be beneficial to the Judiciary. The Bar was very disappointed in some of the things that have been said, some of the criticisms that have been leveled at the Bar. And we believe that the best way to deal with this is to seek to engage the Attorney General, seek to engage the Government on some their concerns."

Jules Vasquez
"One of the criticisms has leveled at the Bar - and I saw Mr. Smith write about it it as well - is that the Bar does not a). serve its members, or b). serve the public. It does not serve its members with continuing education - according to the Attorney General - and Mr. Smith, he proffered in a written piece it should offer some kind of help - some kind of website that maybe the public can access to help them through legal quagmires, land papers and that sort of thing. Is there any spirit in the Bar Asssociation to reform its ways."

Eamon Courtenay
"Jules, again - first of all, neither the Attorney General nor Mr. Smith attended the meeting yesterday. Neither of them attended the Annual General Meeting. It's quite easy to sit in your luxurious office and make these comments, but you need to come and participate. It is unfair and wrong to criticize the Association for being inactive. I don't know, Jules - to be quite frank - what are all the things that the Attorney General has said or done the Bar implemented. What I will say is this, unfortunately, according to the law of this country, he is a member of the General Legal Counsel. I don't think he has ever attended a meeting. According to the law of this country, he is a member of the Executive of the Bar. I don't think he has ever attended a meeting. So, it's very difficult for us, those of us who attend, those of us who participate, those of us who lift our hands and try to something, to hear these criticisms from the Attorney General, from Godfrey Smith, from whoever, if they are not going to participate. There is no law; there is nothing that is preventing anybody from forming another association today. If Mr. Smith, if Mr. Elrington, if any member feels that the Bar Association is not doing what they would like it to do, form an association right now, and do these things that they say should be done. Many of us give our time to the Bar, the Red Cross, the YWCA, to many other charities around Belize, and do all types of work. Many attorneys constantly do pro-bono work. Many attorneys represent people free of charge. We believe very firmly that if the Attorney General has these concerns, the first time I heard them was when he was saying them on the media. He said that he has not been to the Bar Association for many years. Well, if he had been coming, he would have been exposed to many of the things that we have been doing. But more importantly, let us look forward. Let us engage and deal with these issues as members of an association. I do not believe that it is in the interest of the profession that we should form 2, 3, 4 other associations, but I can tell you this. As I said last night, if they're going to form another association, then I will join it, and I will encourage everybody to join it as well. So that we will all be in this other association that is doing all these great things."

Some time ago, the Bar association also submitted to the AG's Ministry, a full review and report of the legal profession act- and suggests this should be looked at in the totality of a review.

Channel 7


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