(CNS): As the row rolls on between the opposition and government benches over the Legal Practitioners Bill, Arden McLean, the independent member from East End, has denied that the controversial motion he filed at the Legislative Assembly is intended to harm the offshore sector for political gain. Speaking Monday on behalf of himself and other MLAs, he said they believed the sector would be damaged more if they don’t make a stand about many unanswered questions concerning the current practice of law firms and the proposed bill to govern the profession.
At a press briefing with Ezzard Miller, Alva Suckoo and Winston Connolly, who seconded his provocative motion to open a criminal investigation against some members of the legal profession, McLean said they had all taken the view that it would be “more detrimental to stand by and do nothing” than to ask for those constitutionally charged to look into the circumstances of the motion.
Among the many allegations, accusations and concerns that the members are raising, they believe that as much as $50 million in fees and taxes have been dodged over the last ten years by some major law firms who are allowing lawyers in other countries to practice Cayman law without a licence, which is also taking work away from the jurisdiction.
On the other side of the argument, Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton believes the MLAs are misunderstanding the current legislation and that if what they suggest is happening, the new law will better manage and help prevent rogue firms with no connections to the islands practicing Cayman law.
The independent members, however, claim the current law already prohibits the practice. They say it is not just rogue unconnected firms but ones based here that are offering illegal services overseas, as they promote it on their websites. They believe this is a breach of the legislation and firms could be prosecuted or required to pay back fees and taxes for the lawyers that are practicing Cayman law overseas when they are not qualified or licensed.
Before the new law is passed, which they claim rubber stamps the wrongdoing, the alleged unlawful practices should be investigated.
“We think that given the particular circumstances and all of the raging debate on the Legal Practitioners Bill which is being proposed by the Government, that there are far too many questions regarding the conduct of some law firms, the Bill, its intentions and its design, and too many issues being raised as regards the process by which it was drafted,” McLean said.
McLean claims that all the concerns that have been raised with Panton by politicians, the wider public and some lawyers have been met “with deafening silence”. He said the “serious accusations and concerns which have been raised by various persons could not simply be brushed under the rug and ignored”, as he justified the motion calling for the official inquiry.
Outlining the independent members’ position that they believe law firms are breaking the law, he said people without Cayman Islands practicing certificates were being held out as Cayman attorneys by large firms, which presented a serious liability for the jurisdiction.
“There have also been numerous allegations that overseas law offices have been used to circumvent the intent and purpose of the Immigration Law. Our position is that no person, company or firm is above the laws of our country and that these allegations must be addressed to ensure the wellbeing and protection of our economy and democracy,” he said.
McLean said they did not believe that the LA could debate the Legal Practitioners Bill “when so many members of our community, and perhaps the wider global community, are left to wonder what the true position was regarding the potential breaches of law by law firms and the origin and intent of the Legal Practitioners Bill”.
He also took aim at Panton for accusing the MLAs of politicizing the motion and the bill and obstructing its passage. McLean said all laws were political and, given that the MLAs drafted 32 pages of amendments to the draft legislation, they could not be fairly accused of obstruction.
McLean said they would gladly support a fair bill as he called for an independent investigation into the merits of the complaints that have been made about the abuse of the current law by some the firms. He said government should not ignore the serious accusation and “blindly license certain practices which could be illegal” without a proper investigation and debate in the LA.
One of the main concerns of the MLAs is the lack of progress in the profession of Caymanians; Panton is, ironically, the only lawyer in Cayman since the late 1990’s to make equity partner. They believe the rules are currently being circumvented and the new legislation will not address this problem but make it worse.
Because of what they believe is the discriminatory practices, the MLAs said it would be “a dereliction of our duty to parliament and the people of this country who elected us” if they did not do something to initiate an investigation into what has been happening and create a law to stop rather than facilitate the continuation.
“We make no apology to anyone who may be inadvertently offended by our simple desire to do right by our people,” he said.
See McLean’s statement in full in the CNS Library