Death of Lawyer Sparks Wrath!

The death of the Lovell family formerly of Breezy Hill, St. Philip continues to be a talking point. The event as reported is unusual for Barbados not accustomed to a family that included young children perishing in questionable circumstances. The blogmaster will resist speculating about how the event occurred.

However, it is interesting to note one of the deceased persons was lawyer Allison Alexander-Lovell who was sanctioned by the Disciplinary Committee for withholding $160,000 of client’s monies in 2016. It is reported she was due to reappear in Court this week on the matter.

The blogmaster as a human being joins the majority of Barbadians who are sorry the Lovell family met untimely deaths. However, it has not gone unnoticed the ire many Barbadians have taken the opportunity to direct at lawyers. For many years lawyers have been known to sit on clients funds and important legal documents for unreasonably lengthy periods; sometimes for always without fear of being sanctioned by the Barbados Bar Association and Disciplinary Committee. 

The fact that successive governments have been composed of members of the legal profession has stoked public cynicism that this is a profession that is about preserving the establishment and the way it does business at any cost. The blogmaster has cited too many examples since its inception in 2006. One of the more blatant examples is a sitting Speaker of the House Michael Carrington who had to be ordered by the high court to surrender monies to a septuagenarian former client without having to step down from serving as Speaker of the House of Assembly AND with the blessing of then prime minister Freundel Stuart. You cannot make this stuff up.

Members of the legal profession in Barbados should be aware of what is referred to as the ‘tipping point’ – ‘defined as the point at which a series of small changes or incidents become significant enough to cause a larger, more important change’. Let it not be stated this blogmaster is stoking ‘insurrection’ against the legal fraternity, the blogmaster has friends and family who are members. Notwithstanding the affinity, rising anti-lawyer sentiment in the country is real and will not take many more changes to set the cat amongst the pigeons. 

We are living in harsh economic times, citizens will not continue to be docile while access to money and property are withheld from them by greedy, corrupt lawyers. The time has long past for the Barbados Bar Association and Disciplinary Committee to switch from PR mode to one of policing its members in the interest of the public it serves. There is also a role for government as policy maker to protect the public it swore to serve.

Wren Herbert – Lawyers Continue to Abuse the Public with Abandon

Concern has been perennially expressed about the distress members of the legal fraternity visit on the lives of citizens of Barbados. Although the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) and the Disciplinary Committee have grounding in law to discipline the profession, there is little evidence lawyers who run afoul of the laws are satisfactorily sanctioned.

We are a nation of laws enacted to protect the rights of citizens from those willing to abuse said laws. It therefore goes without saying we need lawyers to represent us to ensure equity based system design. What we need to get right is to implement a framework where actors in the legal system can be held accountable.

The following paints another sad tale of a man, WREN HERBERT, from West Terrace who took advantage of a situation and to date despite the best effort of the person abused (AV), WREN HERBERT has gone unpunished. This is despite communications to the BBA. From the blogmaster’s research Wren Herbert appears not to be a practicing attorney at this time, he was. He is the brother of the infamous Caroline Herbert.

See report received via COMPLAINTS ——> LAWYERS.


Submitted by AV

Unethical and Dishonest Conduct-Wren Herbert Attorney-at-Law

I am aware that nothing will result from the following which I am outlining, concerning Wren Herbert. However, for the record, I still wish to detail an issue of integrity which should remain extremely concerning for any country when significant numbers of its lawyers fail to act with integrity and trustworthiness. These lawyers elude accountability because of the structures which fail to recognize that it is essential and important for lawyers to be honest and behave lawfully.

It is possible that Wren Herbert may already have been removed from the Bar Association. I was unable to gain information on this because it is extremely painful on soliciting information from any governmental or official body in Barbados when overseas, even emails go unanswered; one encounters a ‘brick wall experience.’

This ‘brick wall’ is all constructed on the basis of, the ‘judging’ of the individual who is seeking the information; drawing conclusions about the individual’s perceived circumstances and actions, a very ‘subjective’ stance is adopted. This ‘judging’ is then evident in non-responses or lack of desired actions from the governmental body the information is being solicited from. Rather than acting as a professional public body should, the actions of governmental and public bodies’ non-responding and non-action, are personally rooted and can inadvertently support the unlawful conduct of lawyers, totally concealing their actions or lack thereof.

Concomitant to this, the country’s development in terms of justice, is hindered and in the eyes of the world, it comes to be seen as corrupt; all engineered by systems that are links in the chain which strengthen unfair and underhanded practices by lawyers.

Outline of Issue

  1. On emigrating from Barbados, I left as a vulnerable, broken divorcee in search of a new life. I had a NEW Green Toyota Tercel, acquired through a vehicle loan from a Government Ministry. The vehicle was just under one year old.
  2. As a lawyer, and a named friend, I asked Wren Herbert to act on my behalf, to return the vehicle to the Ministry as when I left, I was unsure as to whether I would indeed stay in the new position which I was offered; hence not returning it immediately upon my departure, in the event, that I returned.
  3. When I was confident that I was not returning, less than a month later, Wren Herbert stated that rather than return the vehicle, that he wanted to acquire it and he would therefore take possession of the vehicle and repay the outstanding loan amount to the Ministry.
  4. Wren Herbert, did indeed collect the car from my then home.
  5. A friend, who was staying there at the time, handed Wren Herbert the keys and all the particulars of the vehicle and its loan documentation; undoubtedly, Wren Herbert took the car and rang me to confirm that he did have the vehicle.
  6. The witness is willing to provide a statement to verify that Wren Herbert did indeed take the vehicle from my home and many people, I am sure would have seen him with the green Toyota Tercel, car.
  7. Subsequently, I made several attempts to ascertain the status of Wren Herbert’s undertaking i.e., payments to the Ministry; no response ever came back to me from the Ministry, I was being ignored. Overseas telephone calls were a waste of time and money as I was put on hold, disconnected, passed to unhelpful individuals and overall I was placed on a GNVQ course of, ‘going nowhere very quickly.’
  8. I sought confirmation from Wren Herbert and indeed several more times from the Ministry of Education but got no response from either party. This went on for some time, until I finally gave up since although I felt uneasy about the situation, I still did not believe that as a lawyer who was then working for the Hewitt Law firm, that he would be that dishonest.
  9. During 2021, and as it is the entitlement of the governmental bodies in Barbados to disregard enquiries, after an entire year of battling to receive my Barbados work pension, I was forced to enlist the services of a solicitor to secure responses to my requests for information on my pension application from the Ministry concerned. I was told that some people have to wait years not just one year; is this what is to be expected and accepted?
  10. However, after this year long battle and scars of paying a solicitor to indeed receive my pension from the Barbados Ministry, I was startled to learn that on receipt of my pension award from the Barbados government, that Wren Herbert had kept the vehicle or sold it and had NOT repaid the vehicle loan; therefore, the outstanding amount had been taken from my retirement pension.
  11. That outstanding amount which has been taken is $29,166.62, which Wren Herbert owes to me; this clearly is not the way a lawyer should act.
  12. I engaged a Barbados Law firm which has written to Wren Herbert in respect to this and Wren Herbert has ignored the correspondence but I shall not give in.

Summary
• Finally, as stated in the above description of this issue, public office holders and other official bodies in Barbados, more often than not, fail to respond to any issues or complaints; this supports the unscrupulous lawyers.

• Throughout this scenario, judging people and situations, cause public office holders to renege on carrying out their duties effectively i.e., never responding to letters or calls concerning providing information which you are entitled to.

• Consequently, situations escalate unnecessarily, victims are further damaged and lawyer misconduct grows, casting a dark shadow on the overall ethical position of the country.

• I should like to mention that Dale Marshall did respond to my letter, stating that this was more a ‘personal matter;’ I however beg to differ.

• As a lawyer, Wren Herbert cannot separate his personal ethics or lack thereof, from his professional ethics and conduct.

• Wren Herbert was acting professionally when he undertook the agreement to either return the vehicle or repay the loan.

• Who else has been damaged by Wren Herbert as lawyer?

Disciplinary Committee Fails to Protect Client now Deceased, AGAIN!

The judgement handed down by the Court of Appeal in the matter No:108 of 2008 (attached) is compelling reading, all 67 pages. In summary, John Patrick Connor and his wife (vendors) retained Philip Vernon Nicholls  (lawyer) to facilitate the sale of a property, purchase price $950,000. The proceeds of the sale were never paid to the Connors now deceased. The judgement exposes a litany of woes and vindicates Barbados Underground on several issues raised- see updates on BU’s Tales from the Courts page.

In brief the report prepared by the Disciplinary Report to support request Attorney-at-Law Philip Vernon Nicholls be removed from the roll of lawyers practising in Barbados was dismissed because of ‘procedural irregularities’. Here is Justice of Appeal Rajendra Narine (p.43) scathing dissenting opinion.

 

 

It is unfortunate to witness another case of an oversight body (Disciplinary Committee) established by statute to protect the interest of the public from lawyers who engage in unprofessional conduct not met.

 


 

A resource link:

The Disciplinary Committee is created pursuant to the Legal Professions Act Cap 370A and is “charged with the duty of upholding standards of professional conduct”. The Committee is charged with making rules in relation to the standards of professional etiquette and conduct of attorneys. It comprises seven attorneys, of whom at least three shall be of not less than ten years’ standing in the legal profession, nominated by the Bar Association. Each member shall hold tenure for a period not exceeding two years but each member is eligible for renomination.

Raising the BAR

Open Complaint Letter to Attorney General Dale Marshall and Chief Justice Marson Gibson About Attorney-at-law Peta-Gay Lee-Brace

Here is complaint received about yet another lawyer from an ordinary Barbados. From the supporting documentation this matter has been outstanding for close to a decade- if we start counting from 2011- when a letter to the Disciplinary Committee was lodged. Note this matter was highlighted on a BU in April, 2015.

See documents repeated via the File Complaints Against Lawyers —–> HERE initiative.

File Complaints Against Lawyers —–> HERE

There is one nettlesome complaint which keeps surfacing from Barbadians at home or abroad. It is always about lawyers wantonly violating standards of conduct as perceived in the court of public opinion and the ‘system’ repeatedly fail to redress.

These lawyers reallocate client’s monies, delay simple transactions to the detriment of clients financially, emotionally, illegally and otherwise. The result is that the reputation of the profession has been injured.

To heap on the issue for complainants is the inability of the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) and the Disciplinary Committee (DC) to discharge its mandate to satisfactorily treat with complaints submitted by general public.

The purpose of this update is to invite members of the public – through a simple process – to highlight matters submitted to the BBA or DC. In turn the blogmaster will track and highlight submissions in this medium and other social media platforms to ensure tension is exerted. The expectation is that parties named will see the benefit of resolving matters and be true to their moral and legal mandates.

This is a pilot project. Response from the public will determine next steps.

https://form.jotform.co/form/91072085340854

The blogmaster gives credit to PUDRYR for his input which led to the creation of this initiative.

Barbadians Cry Out as Barbados Bar Association Continues to Protect Crooked Lawyers and Dysfunctional System

Liesel Weekes

On many occasions in which clients have brought disciplinary proceedings against their attorneys for misappropriating or unduly withholding their funds, once the funds have been repaid the client is no longer interested in pursuing the matter at the disciplinary committee – .Liesel Weekes, President of the BAR

The President of the Barbados Bar Association (BBA) Liesel Weekes delivered from legalese text last week an insensitive rebuttal to the public. It is no secret lawyers have withheld client funds, misappropriated client funds, ‘misplaced’ important documents, been unresponsive and unprofessional. Weekes found the time to steadfastly defend her Association as any lawyer is trained to do.

She stated that unless members of the public presented evidence the ‘talk’ about lawyers being crooked is not sufficient to discipline the lawyer being accused. What Weekes and her predecessors have failed to do is update the public on the following just to name a few items:

  • The date complaint was received and responded to by the Barbados Bar Association/Disciplinary Committee
  • The number of complaints received and the number actioned by the BBA/Disciplinary Association
  • Give a listing of the nature of the charges contained in the complaints received by the BBA/Disciplinary Committee
  • How many complaints were not followed by the BBA/Disciplinary Committee because accused lawyers frustrated the process
  • Provide an Ageing Report’ of complaints outstanding with the BBA/Disciplinary Committee

No we do not accept that as President of the BBA Ms. Weekes has no idea the status of complaints lodged with the Disciplinary Committee. A commonsense approach would have been to have the Chairperson of the Disciplinary Committee append to the statement issued by Weekes.

Barbados Underground over the years has posted many blogs to highlight a dysfunctional court system including the ancillary services. The blogmaster is aware the BBA and Disciplinary Committee have not been given the resources to provide a quality service to the public. In fact one would deem it a nobrainer given the volume of complaints about the legal system from the public at home and abroad that successive governments would have addressed the matter. One is therefore left to assume tthe obvious.

At the town hall meetings in Canada recently Prime Minister Mia Mottley – a lawyer- admitted that the justice system is failing those who are forced to seek justice. A Barbadian in the diaspora also shared an experience with David Ellis last week where he travelled from overseas to attend a hearing in Barbados and he was not notified that the lawyer defending the matter would have been unavailable.

Over the years the blogmaster has observed some of our ‘best’ lawyers elected to the role of President of the BBA or appointed  to Chair the Disciplinary Committee. However,  service to the general public has not improved. Despite many of our ‘best’ lawyers having been elevated to become members of parliament and ministers of government where they have the opportunity to influence policymaking.

In the same way the BBA is always quick to comment on legislation harmful to the power brokers, why not recommend a change to the law that would permit the Crown to prosecute lawyers accused of stealing clients funds when there is evidence monies were repaid? The practice of lawyers repaying monies to clients on condition they do not prosecute is immoral and continues to compromise the justice system. Michael Carrington the former Speaker of the House is a good example.

To the lawyers that are members of the government- enough is enough!

Relevant links:

Tales from the Courts

Tales from the Courts – Adriel Brathwaite #bajanswantchange XXX

The latest report emanating from Adriel Brathwaite on amendments to the Legal Professions Act has appeared in several news outlets. For those who have not read about it, here is one such report.

The truth is that these amendments will be as much use as trying to stick a plaster on a gaping abdominal wound. They are merely a political ploy to make it look as if Adriel Brathwaite is actually doing something so that the electorate will feel that he is deserving of his salary as an MP. And, of course, allowing him – some refer to him as Nitwit – to jump on the BU bandwagon in decrying the BA and the entire justice system, which now has come into fashion in politics as if it is the idea of each and every politician who spouts off about it. We have never heard one of them give BU any credit – but never mind, we can live with that – we are an anonymous blog and service to the country.

A quick look at how things operate in other jurisdictions, a look that Brathwaite could have taken himself, provided he is computer literate.

ENGLAND AND WALES: 

In England and Wales, the qualifications to practice as a solicitor are determined by the Law Society, which as a result vests in the Law Society the right of discipline, without recourse to any Court of Appeal – although the solicitor concerned can appeal a decision by the Law Society.

Here is what the Law Society has to say on its website about complaints. These complaints can also be made directly to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority (SRA). We recommend that everyone read this link and advert your particular attention to the part dealing with the Compensation Fund, which will resonate loudly with far too many dissatisfied clients in Barbados. It will also be noted that the SRA has the authority to close a firm and take possession of its accounts and documents, so that if, for example, a solicitor is withholding your documents, the SRA can and DOES force that solicitor to give them back to you.

In England and Wales, the Law Society also mandates that solicitors are obliged to take out professional indemnity insurance.

ONTARIO: 

The Law Society of Upper Canada determines who and who cannot practice law in Ontario and, therefore, determines and applies disciplinary measures – see link.

The LSUC also has a Compensation Fund. However, be warned that, lacking an organization such as the UK’s SRA, in Ontario it takes ages for complaints to be addressed and dealt with, which is why they fudge the issue on their website and therefore for the Compensation Fund to kick in.

It is also to be noted that all Ontario solicitors must have personal liability insurance cover through LawPro. This insurance in both the UK and Ontario, provides that if you take a lawyer to court and win, it pays not only the lawyer’s legal fees and your legal fees, but also, up to a certain amount (I believe it is the equivalent of BBD$1.25 million) of any awards the court might make.

So compensation for the aggrieved and the costs of obtaining redress, other than trying to fruitlessly pursue and bankrupt attorney, is addressed by these countries.

BARBADOS

In Barbados, the BA does not determine qualifications or to whom practice certificates are issued. That is the right of the executive. And it is clear that membership of the BA is certainly not mandatory The BA cannot discipline, but may only make recommendations to the Court of Appeal. This prolongs an already retarded and cumbersome process.

Why can the Legal Professions Act (in Brathwaite’s amendments) not establish under the same authority that determines qualifications and issues practicing certificates, a disciplinary body with the power to enforce disciplinary measures? It isn’t nuclear science is it?

The truth is that as it stands, the BA has cocked up the whole concept of the Disciplinary Committee. The Legal Professions Act specifically states that members of the Committee are to be “NOMINATED” by the executive. However, guess what? The BA’s executive does not nominate members, it has them elected by the membership, no doubt preparing those aspiring to be members of the DC for later general elections.

The framers of the Act showed great wisdom in using the word “NOMINATE”. It allows for lack of conflict of interest in that it allows the executive to NOMINATE retired judges and attorneys, rather than having brethren sit in judgement on fellow brothers. It is also true to say that the senior attorneys NOMINATED ought to have extensive criminal law experience, as they have far more experience with the weighing and assessment of evidence. This too is common sense, as long as you know the difference between “nominate” and “elect.

At the end of the day, the only amendments to the Legal Professions Act that stand a chance of dealing with the matter of discipline is to remove it completely from the BA and into the purview of the authority that determines who can and who cannot practice law in Barbados and to give that authority the right to discipline without recourse to the Court of Appeal and also to give it the Compensation Fund to administer and make payments out of. Otherwise, the general public will think that these Nitwit amendments are merely designed for political gain and mileage and will not benefit them at all – and they will be RIGHT!

However, there is absolutely nothing that says that the Legal Professions Act cannot establish a separate entity, not under the umbrella of the BA, to deal with disciplinary matters and with the Compensation Fund and to disbar without having to waste more time going to the Court of Appeal (or, more commonly, not) after decisions that at best smack of bias.

So Mr. Attorney General now that you know how it works in other countries feel free to use BU to lobby and put on pressure for workable amendments to the Legal Professions Act, instead of just a political sticking plaster on a gaping abdominal wound.

Barbados Bar Association and the Useless $2,000,000.00 Compensation Fund

This 2016 BU log is highlighted to respond to the page 3A article in today’s Sunday Sun (posted in BU’s comment Box below- Blogmaster


BU continues our spotlight on the Barbados Bar Association (BA) and the Disciplinary Committee (DC), in particular the little known Compensation Fund (CF). The CF can easily be compared to the useless Catastrophe Fund (CF#2), government recently made a decision to transfer the balance outstanding of 35 million dollars to the Consolidated Fund (CF#3). The BA’s website provides the following information on practicing certificates. There are only two references to the CF.

FEES PAYABLE TO THE REGISTRAR OF THE SUPREME COURT:

Practising Certificate-$ 2500.00

Practising Certificate – (Queen’s Counsel)- $ 2500.00

Compensation Fund- $ 200.00

AND:

Q. What are the fees payable prior to admission?

A. (a) Cheque (or cash) payable to Barbados Bar Association.

Less than 5 years $293.75

5 years and over $440.63

10 years and over $625.10

15 years and over $625.10

20 years and over $1175.00

Queens Counsel $1562.75

(b)Separate Cheques (or cash) payable to The Registrar of the Supreme Court

$200.00 – Compensation Fund – mandatory.

$2500.00 – Professional Registration Fee – [manadatory].

N.B. we only accept cash or cheque no debit or credit cards

NOTE: The standards of professional competence of the BA seems to exclude a spell-check that allows it to spell “mandatory” correctly. This is very encouraging if we consider competency as a measure.

Apart from that, there is no part of the BA’s website that explains the CF. See BU’s search string. There is absolutely nothing in a Google search from the BA to explain the CF. The Legal Professions Act states, inter alia:

50. (1) Where it is proved to the satisfaction of the Bar Association that any person has sustained loss in consequence of dishonesty on the part of an attorney-at-law or any clerk or servant of an attorney-at-law in connection with that attorney- at-law’s practice as an attorney-at-law or in connection with any trust of which that attorney-at-law is a trustee, then, subject to the provisions of this section, the Association may, if it thinks fit, make a grant to that person out of the Fund for the purpose of relieving or mitigating that loss.

(2) A grant may be made under this section whether or not the attorney-at-law had a Practising Certificate in force when the act of dishonesty was committed, and notwithstanding that after the commission of that act the attorney-at-law has died or had his name removed from the Roll, or has ceased to practise or been suspended from practice.

(3) On the making by the Bar Association of any grant under this section to any person in respect of any loss-

(a) the Association shall to the amount of that grant be subrogated to any rights and remedies in respect of that loss of the person to whom the grant is made or of the attorney-at-law, clerk or servant; and the person to whom the grant is made shall have no right under bankruptcy or other legal proceedings or otherwise to receive any sum out of the assets of the attorney-at-law, clerk or servant in respect of the loss until the Association has been reimbursed the full amount of its grant, and in paragraphs (a) and (b) of this subsection reference to the person to whom the grant is made or to the attorney-at-law, clerk or servant includes, in the event of his death, insolvency or other disability, a reference to his personal representative or any other person having authority to administer his estate.

(4) The Bar Association may make rules with respect to the procedure to be followed in giving effect to the provisions of this section and of the Sixth Schedule and with respect to any matters incidental, ancillary or supplemental to those provisions or concerning the administration or protection of the Fund.

(5) No grant shall be made under this section in respect of any loss unless notice of the loss is received by the Bar Association in such manner and within such time after the loss first came to the knowledge of the loser as may be prescribed by rules made under subsection (4).

(6) For the purposes of enquiring into any matters which may affect the making or refusal of a grant under this section, the Bar Association or any committee appointed by the Association and authorised by it to exercise any of its functions under this section or to assist it in the exercise of any such functions may administer oaths.

In other words, the BA has the right to make a grant out of the CF, but if the complainant then is paid back the sum claimed from the attorney, they must refund the BA the amount the BA granted them out of the CF. This seems a fair position.

Note that in the Google search above, apart from the opaque reference to the CF on the BA’s website, the ONLY references to be found are to BU’s publications on the matter of the CF. The only substantive explanation BU can offer comes from Mrs Woodford-Riley QC, head off the DC which states, inter alia:

“I recall you had raised the issue of the compensation fund. In my opinion the existing provisions do allow the compensation fund to make payments with the provisos that it may require the applicant to pursue civil or criminal or disciplinary proceedings. It does then have something to do with our committee and we do give priority hearings to complaints involving funds. However the legislation limits our powers to a finding of professional misconduct and the ability to recommend removal, suspension, fine, reprimand, order for payment of costs. An Order by the Court of Appeal supporting our finding of professional misconduct would then be supportive of a claim to the fund. Action through civil proceedings is also an effective way to obtain a resolution and support a claim to the fund.”

We reflect on: “In my opinion the existing provisions do allow the compensation fund to make payments with the provisos that it may require the applicant to pursue civil or criminal or disciplinary proceedings.” What if the attorney is impecunious? Is it being suggested that a complainant, already burdened by financial loss attributable to some dishonest lawyer be required, at the complainant’s expense, to bring civil proceedings, with the legal costs, delays etc. to further screw up their lives? As for bringing a criminal action, surely that is a matter for the DPP to decide and prosecute, not the victim of a theft and breach of trust by a ‘teefing’ lawyer and, often, member of the BA?  What makes their crime of theft different from those incarcerated at Dodds? read Speaker Michael Carrington.  That they are lawyers and therefore must be deemed to have known what they were doing was criminal? Surely that makes it worse and even more deserving of a custodial sentence? What the hell are the Police and the DPP doing? Creating an immunity to prosecution to which only the Queen is lawfully entitled? Should we start addressing lawyers as “Your Majesty”?

We accept that the DC cannot order payment out of the CF, but what prevents it, in cases of hardship, from recommending it in its findings to the Court of Appeal and what prevents the Court of Appeal from passing on the recommendation in its judgement.

BOTTOM LINE: Due to a lack of transparency on the part of the BA and the justice system, complainants have probably never realised that they could make a claim under the CF and their lawyers sure as hell are not telling them about it. This has allowed the BA to grow and maintain its nest egg of now well over $2 million without ever making any payment at all, except to advertise the estates of deceased attorneys.

We want to make it clear that, until she proves us wrong, we have the greatest respect for Mrs Woodford-Riley QC, the head of the DC and we are encouraged to look forward to far-reaching changes to the efficiency, speed, transparency and the way the DC operates under her (recently appointed) leadership. As always BU will be closely monitoring and sharing feedback to our readership.

Understanding the Challenges Faced by the Disciplinary Committee of the Barbados Bar Association

Marguerite Woodstock-Riley, Chair of the Disciplinary Committee

Marguerite Woodstock-Riley, Chair of the Disciplinary Committee

It has become evident to BU that one of the reasons the Disciplinary Committee (DC) cannot effectively carry out its work is because of a lack of resources. Even the well-meaning Andrew ‘Pilly’ Pilgrim could not make a difference and the incumbent Woodstock-Riley must be facing the same challenge.

The DC is an autonomous body – not to be confused with the Bar Association – of all volunteers therefore adequate administrative support is essential for the committee to do its work. Routine office activities to efficiently record complaints, follow up on decisions, timely service of documents and record of date served, records of what is sent out and follow up, notices to committee members of matters to be discussed to enable preparation  etc. BU understands that the staff at the DC work only two days per week. To exacerbate the situation one staff member was extended to 5 days but was off sick for a large part of last year. After persistent representation by the BA another person was appointed to work 5 days per week by the Registrar. A scanner was used to better distribute documents and various systems put in place to have information automated. It is evident the BC needs greater resources to improve office administration to effectively tackle the mountain of complaints against members of the profession.

The committee meets every Tuesday but decided to  meet one Saturday per month in an attempt to chip away at the backlog. Some hearings were done on other days to accommodate complainants and teleconferences used to facilitate overseas complainants. Complaints were  prioritised and those involving financial issues as the highest.  Firmer positions taken on adjournments by both parties.

It is BU’s view given the backlog – just like what exist in our Courts – a draconian and urgent intervention will be required by the government to address the several issues faced by the DC. A proposal was made to increase the size of the committee to 14. At present 7 persons with 4 needed as a quorum makes it very difficult to review complaints efficiently, schedule hearings and have decisions written. An increase in the amount of financial support received by the committee to improve administrative support has been requested. However BU suspects given the current state of public finances the challenge at the DC will be with us for a while longer.

One area the DC can improve is in the area of communication with the public to increase awareness of what the DC is mandated to do. BU understands that many persons use the DC as a means of collecting funds or resolving issues that can more effectively done in other forums.

It is interesting to note that the majority of complaints to the DC involve land matters. While there has been a suggestion to restrict funds paid to attorneys on land sales BU has been advised that is not something the DC can act on.  BU’s concern is that Barbados should not have to reinvent the wheel in this regard. Let us borrow from other jurisdictions where disciplinary action is undertaken with fervour. We therefore await the proposed changes to the Legal Profession Act that is slated to be reviewed soon.

Can we [the people] expect to hear from the Attorney General and government on this issue?