Chief Justice: Disreputable Lawyers Causing Mistrust Of Legal Profession LK Hewlett Dishonorable behavior by lawyers in the region is leading to public mistrust of the legal profession and by extension of the justice system, said Chief Justice Madame Janice Pereira. The Chief Justice had stern words for attorneys during her address at the ceremony for the opening of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court Law Year 2015/2016 on Thursday (Sept 17). The role played by the legal profession is critical to the proper functioning of the justice system, she stressed, and therefore how smoothly the system moves along depends on how well the legal practitioners play their role in the conduct and pursuit of the causes before the court. “One of the key elements is the existence of an independent, effective and competent legal profession. In my view this is as fundamental to upholding the rule of law and independence of the judiciary as the court and its judicial administrators themselves. “Unfortunately, over the years the legal profession has come under much scrutiny and I dare say much criticism. Much distrust has developed among members of the citizenry not only within our member states and territories but also within the wider region and even beyond.” Madame Chief Justice lamented the fact that disbarments, suspensions and other sanctions among members of the legal profession “are becoming all too common place”. “This begs the question ‘what happened along the way?” She reminded of the reverence placed on the profession as it was regarded from time immemorial as a learned and noble profession whose members were trusted, upright citizens in society deemed to be beyond reproach. “There is no mistaking the exceptionality of this calling to stand at the Bar… however, somewhere along the way this acuity became compromised or perceptively derailed and carried with it the great price of public mistrust. Instead, the more common perception is that lawyers are untrustworthy, that they act irresponsibly and are often seen as persons consumed in arrogance and driven only by greed.” The Chief Justice said the disheartening view that appears to be the overwhelming public perception of the legal profession prompted the course of her address this year, entitled “The role of the court and the legal profession in providing and promoting an efficient justice system”. One of the disreputable practices lawyers are frequently being accused of engaging in is the misuse of clients’ funds for their own purposes, she noted. Madame Pereira called on attorneys to respect the rule of law, the courts, the oath of office they took, and each other. President of the St. Kitts and Nevis Bar Association Charles Wilkin QC said the priority and emphasis the Chief Justice had given the issue and that she expressed concern at the declining standards of conduct and erosion of the image of the profession, was timely and fully justified. “While no members of the profession in this country have been disbarred or suspended since the current disciplinary system was established by the Legal Profession Act in 2010, the Disciplinary Committee comprising of members of the profession appointed by the Chief Justice has been active in hearing and adjudicating on complaints against lawyers,” he noted. Even where formal complaints were not brought, QC Wilkin said in his capacity as President of the Bar Association, he routinely heard of grievances of clients who have been let down by lawyers whom they trusted. QC Wilkin chided older lawyers for “often callously putting their political allegiances above their duties to the profession and as officers of the court” and in so doing set “an awful example” for the growing number of young lawyers.
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