EDITOR, The Tribune.
I write to speak of a matter of immense concern to me. It is often said that the law is an honourable profession. That the attorney plays a leading role in our society. This is reflected in the donning of the wig and gown, the pomp and ceremony, the annual celebration of the commencement of the legal year where lawyers and judges take to the street, closing down the main thoroughfares of Bay and Shirley Streets accompanied by police escort, monopolise Christ Church Cathedral for a service attended by the Bishops and priests of all religions, which service is followed by an address by the Chief Justice upon completing his inspection of the Police Guard.
The purpose of all this is not to boast that lawyers are a privileged elitist bunch! It is to instil in lawyers the solemnness of the role they have been delegated in our society, to be servants of the Courts, to ensure that justice is available to all including the meek and downtrodden and that all citizens will have their rights protected before the courts.
Lawyers have a duty to ensure and maintain the profession, its dignity, its integrity and its competence. I write to address the last.
The public needs to have confidence that if someone is allowed to hold himself out as a counsel and attorney, that person understands the law and is able to give them good advice.
Yes, there will be differences between counsel, with some perhaps being better than others at some things or maybe even everything, that some will charge more than others. That is the position in all professions. However, the assurance they must have is that once someone is allowed to hold themselves out as a counsel and attorney, member of our ancient and honourable Bar, that they are competent. The role in helping to ensure this is a burden assumed by the Government, the Bar Council and the Bar Association.
In recent years, I have come to realise that we are all failing. We have some competent lawyers and we have brilliant lawyers, however we also have lawyers of questionable competence. Yes, there is a right for the profession to be open to all and I have no objection.
However, there is a duty that is vested in the Bar Council and all members of the Bar to protect the public.
We have lawyers who do not understand basic concepts of the law. Who are allowed to carry on practices but do not know how to draft documents or even bring a proper case before the Court.
I have witnessed lawyers who appear unable to give their clients sound advice. Who bring or defend actions doomed to fail, not only because the clients have no case, but because the lawyer was not adequately representing them. Often, they cause their clients unnecessary loss of liberty or money.
I am sure that the judges see this almost every day but acknowledge, quite rightly, that the duty to prevent this rests with the Bar and not with them. Nevertheless, our judges perform the yeoman’s task of trying to ensure as far as they can that the clients of these incompetent attorneys receive justice.
Many a judge, because a case has been inadequately argued by one or both counsel, has to do his or her own research.
I have practiced for 38 years and over time I have noted a steady deterioration in the quality of attorneys before the Bar.
The time has long come for us to carry out our duty. Steps have to be taken to ensure that persons called to the Bar and admitted to practice have received proper training, a grounding in, and understanding of, the law, ethics, integrity and competence.
Most lawyers are painfully aware of this truth but fail to act because they fear being branded protectionist or elitist. Perhaps they also fear that if they criticise, they themselves may be criticised. Perhaps some are silent because it makes their work easier dealing with attorneys who cannot properly challenge them.
Steps have to be taken to ensure that lawyers are competent when they are admitted to the Bar and that they represent their clients with integrity, honesty and competence.
LUTHER H McDONALD
September 21, 2017.