(CNS): The minister responsible for the offshore sector has described a motion by two independent opposition MLAs seeking the prosecution of attorneys and law firms as “grossly irresponsible” as it is an unwarranted attack on the very foundations of the country’s financial service sector and there is no basis for the allegations being made. Wayne Panton said it was a political move that served their interests but undermined the interests of thousands of Caymanians working in or depending on the offshore industry.
He said there was nothing to suggest that any firms were breaking the current Legal Practitioners Law. Panton told CNS Friday that the two members were well-aware that they were wrong on this issue and they were engaged in an unwarranted attack on the sector for wholly political reasons.
As the Legislative Assembly met this week for its final session before Cayman goes to the polls, Arden McLean filed a last-minute motion, supported by Winston Connolly, a lawyer who previously worked for one of the firms that the motion is targeting, asking government to direct the attorney general to investigate local law firms for breaking immigration and professional laws.
Both men know their claims and allegations are incorrect, he said, because the firms are not breaking the current legislation and having offices overseas is fundamental to the work that Cayman does and what has made the jurisdiction such an important financial hub.
The new Legal Practitioners Bill is about to be debated during this current meeting so there was no need for the members to file this controversial motion that attacks the sector and the people working in it, Panton said. “I have grave concerns about the approach they are taking to serve their own political interests,” the minister told CNS.
He said the insults against him personally, as the MLAs have accused him of being conflicted and for drafting a flawed piece of legislation, are one thing but trying to undermine the industry when the allegations “have no merit whatsoever is reckless and irresponsible”.
Panton said that he was aware that the independent members have been told by the attorney general and other legal authorities that there is no evidence that any firm has breached legislation relating to the offices they have overseas.
The police also confirmed Friday morning during a press briefing about crime statistics that they have never received any reports complaining about law firms breaking the law.
The Cayman Islands Law Society also waded in on the issue after the private member’s motion was accepted by the speaker and the details were reported on CNS Thursday.
“We strongly object to the allegations of any breaches of the laws of the Cayman Islands and we are concerned that this motion is simply a means of diverting attention from the merits of the Legal Practitioners Bill,” the society stated in a short statement.
The CILS and the Caymanian Bar Association have supported the new bill and believe this move is an attempt to derail legislation that has been a point of contention for more than a decade. “The bill brings the framework governing Cayman’s legal profession into the modern era and must be passed in order for the Cayman Islands to comply with current international best practice.”
McLean and Connolly, along with most of the members sitting on the opposition benches, are opposed to the legislation as they say it does not protect local attorneys.
It’s not yet clear when the Legal Practitioners Bill will be debated, as the government has only just begun working through the list of 38 pieces of draft legislation, several motions of its own and around a dozen private members’ motions among other business that the parliament must deal with in this final session before the parliament must be prorogued on 28 March ahead of Nomination Day, which triggers the official general election campaign.