(CNS): After weeks of arguing, acrimony and allegations between government and the opposition benches over the current Legal Practitioners Bill, all members of the Legislative Assembly have finally agreed to sit down and discuss the content and narrow down disagreement so that everyone can support it. Politicians spent most of Wednesday quarreling over who drafted the law and who paid for it. But minutes before the House was adjourned, at around 11pm last night, the opposition stood up and accepted the premier’s invitation to address the mountain of amendments proposed by both sides together in a focused meeting.
While government is proposing more than 60 amendments to the draft, which was first circulated in October, and the opposition is filing another 130, the premier has repeatedly stated that there is still considerable common ground about the law but that the entire House needs to be involved in narrowing down the areas of disagreement and amendments to create a workable piece of legislation.
Late last night, after the rows over the involvement of the Caymanian Bar Association and the Cayman Islands Law Society in the drafting and financing of the legislation died down, a deal was agreed to work together. Following the intervention of the three longest-serving members of the House, the row de-escalated and a meeting was confirmed for Thursday to allow the contributions of all members, so that a far fewer amendments could be made to bill before it is passed into law.
Members became heated and allegations of conflict and deception were hurled from the opposition benches to government, and at Financial Services Minister Wayne Panton in particular, when it was confirmed that the Law Society, described by Alva Suckoo as the “perpetrators of discrimination” against Caymanians, had paid the £50,000 fee to a UK expert to draw up the first draft.
Wayne Panton and Premier Alden McLaughlin made it clear that this decision was made in 2014, when both Suckoo and Winston Connolly, who have both been vehemently critical of the bill, were still part of the PPM government and knew about the decision because of the need to get the bill done quickly in the face of a significant backlog of legislation in Cayman’s own drafting department. Panton also noted that the preliminary draft was then redrafted by the legal department’s own drafters before it came to Cabinet to be signed off.
The premier stated several time that his government was not trying to undermine the interests of Caymanians in the legal profession, quite the contrary, and the opposition was wrong to try to win political points by derailing the bill and allowing the status quo, which everyone agreed was bad, to prevail.
Enforcing the point that he was keen to get the most favourable legislation possible for local attorneys, McLaughlin noted that if he was defeated in the elections in two months time or in four years, he will be going back to the profession. More importantly, he said, his wife is an attorney and his son is just completing his articles with a major law firm. With so many members of the McLaughlin family in the law profession, he said there was no one more vested in ensuring that it worked for Caymanians.
As he urged members to work with the government on this law, he said that as much as he was uncomfortable with affirmative action measures, if the “tortuous history” of this law was any indication of the future, there would be no significant change in the profession regarding the discrimination of Caymanians unless government gets a modern bill passed to regulate the sector that also legislates as much as possible to stop the discrimination everyone agreed was happening.
He accepted that the legislation may not be perfect and that it was not unusual to have committee stage amendments to any law, though he said he had never seen so many on one bill, but he said it was “not fatally flawed or terrible”, as he urged the members to come together and narrow down the disagreements.
The members are meeting in the LA building in camera to discuss amendments to it and try and arrive at some consensus. However, there are large gaps in opinion, with Ezzard Miller, the MLA for North Side, firmly opposed to the legislation allowing local law firms to practice local law outside Cayman at all, while Minister Panton has pointed out the need to create an environment that allows it to flourish because of the business it drives back to the jurisdiction.
The other problem is the reaction of the profession to a law that is markedly different from the one that took many years for the CBA and CILS to agree on.
The normal proceedings of the LA are expected to resume Friday.