Bar Association: A Thing of the Past Print E-mail
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Written by Shane D. Williams   
Thursday, 14 March 2013 00:00

The Attorney General of Belize, Hon. Wilfred Elrington, intends to introduce a Bill at the National Assembly that will amend the Legal Profession Act in an effort to grant freedom of association to members of the legal profession in Belize. The Bill has been in the pipeline for over three years and once passed, it will cause the Bar Association of Belize to lose its monopoly on legal services in the country and allow for the establishment of a more accountable General Legal Counsel.

As the law currently stands, regardless of an individual’s qualifications and accreditations, to enter into private practice in Belize one must become a member of the Bar Association of Belize. Once called to the Bar, that individual will be required to pay dues annually in order to maintain membership. The association is responsible to promote the interest of its members. However, many members have been dissatisfied with the Bar’s performance for decades. Attorney General Elrington said that he stopped attending meetings of the Bar Association “since the early 80s”. In an interview with 7 News he said, “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… 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.” The amendment will make joining the Bar an exercise of choice. In order to attract new members the Bar will have to prove that they actually serve a meaningful purpose in the development of an individual’s career.

Since lawyers will no longer be required to be members of the Bar, there is even more need for an effective system of accountability in the profession. There have been many cases recently in which clients have complained publicly about the unprofessionalism of members of the Bar. One case in particular involves Arthur Saldivar in which numerous American clients have claimed they paid him thousands of dollars for services that he has not delivered on. Saldivar has faced no penalties from the Bar and continues to practice under its umbrella despite public shame. The General Legal Counsel is responsible to resolve cases in which the professionalism of an attorney is in question. The counsel’s zero percent conviction rate is the subject of many scholarly jokes. The amendment will include a new system of appointment to the General Legal Counsel; one that will allow for a more independent and objective exercise of duties. Elrington said he would like to see a judge as a member of the counsel.

Prime Minister Barrow publicly expressed his support for the legislation on Wednesday, March 13th. He said, “In so many other professional organizations we have seen that constitutionally there can be no exclusivity.” When asked if he would consider leaving the Bar upon reentering private practice, PM Barrow said, “If there was a sensible move to start a more effective association then I would have to keep an opened mind”.