A new leadership for the Guyana Bar Association (GBA) was elected yesterday, but the legal profession is facing some harsh criticisms from one of its own.
In a scathing Letter to the Editor published today, outspoken lawyer, Christopher Ram, warned that the new executive of the association will have its work cut out.
Citing a number of things which has raised his concerns, he explained that the law provides for a Legal Practitioners Committee, comprising lawyers only, which has responsibility for overseeing the conduct of the members of the profession.
However, despite the good work of a few members, the committee has been largely ineffective, Ram argued. A lack of resources, commitment and courage to deal with the “egregious infractions by some members of the profession,” has not been helping the situation.
He pointed out that he recently learnt of a matter in which a lawyer committed what amounts to a fraud on the courts. The matter was known to other lawyers but they were reluctant to raise the issue.
The lawyer was also critical of what he described as stories of case files being ducked – there seems to be some truth about them.
Ram’s complaints, indeed, would come at a time when there have been complaints against lawyers, lodged with this newspaper and at other fora, about unethical practices of some lawyers.
“Lawyers are bound by a Code of Conduct under the Legal Practitioners Act, but many, it seems, pay little attention to its prescriptions, confident that they will get away with whatever. Even when lawyers are found “guilty”, the strongest punishment they face is being told to refund the fees or money paid to them by their hapless clients,” Ram claimed in his letter.
He said that in a civilised environment, such action would require publication.
“Here in Guyana, there is no more than whisper among lawyers while the offending lawyer is free to continue the offending practice. My recommendation would be for the Legal Practitioners Committee to be headed by a retired judge enabled with capable full-time staff, and for all its findings to be publicised. The public needs protection from unscrupulous practitioners.”
Ram was also critical of the fact that for 14 years, lawyers have blocked statutory provisions (the Fiscal Enactments [Amendment] [No. 2] Act, 2003) aimed at bringing them more securely into the tax net.
In other words, many were not paying their fair share of taxes.
“Professionals in Guyana, including accountants and doctors, seem to have an allergy to paying taxes, but what makes the legal profession stand out is that the members ply their trade in court buildings provided, maintained and staffed from funds borne by taxpayers. Yet, the stories of tax evasion by some lawyers would be comical if the matter did not involve criminal conduct.”
The lawyer, who also writes a blog, noted that in the past, it did appear that there was a class bias in tax administration that treated the small business person and the employee less favourably than professionals.
This should cease. “There should be no discrimination in tax administration and it would be a great day when the annual reports of the (Guyana) Revenue Authority start disclosing statistical information on the tax contribution of various categories of taxpayers.”
With regards to the GBA’s elections, Ram noted that the elections yesterday will have focused less on the association’s financial report or the council’s report for the past year, and more on the elections for the council for the ensuing year.
“A year in which the Bar Association and the wider profession have witnessed, oxymoronically, both much happening and nothing happening.”
He urged the new council to be aware that the profession is often confronted with legislation and executive action that are considered bad in a democratic state and in some cases, a violation of the Constitution.
“The men and women who will vie for election to lead the profession over the next year or two will be undertaking a formidable responsibility. I wish them well. But only if their objective is to serve the society that grants them an elevated status, and not as an embellishment of their CVs.”
Meanwhile, activist and newspaper columnist, Freddie Kissoon, was especially harsh in his comments, noting that the Legal Practioners’ Committee has to be a farce is a small country like Guyana.
“When you have a society with a small number of lawyers, then they all know each other. Over the years, they would have crisscrossed, maybe in ways that make them grateful to each other. How then can you ask the same people to discipline their colleagues that come in front of them? It is a caricature for which there should be changes to the law.”
He argued that there should be a name change to the Legal Disciplinary Committee and should comprise a majority of members who belong to other professions, including academics, religious figures, doctors and even retired judges.
“My respect for the Bar Association is almost non-existent and I have expressed that sentiment in my columns over the years. We have maybe three or four lawyers who pay any recognition to human rights violations.”
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