The Chamber of Advocates has slammed a bill to regulate the legal profession published by the government earlier this month, saying it is a massive departure from a draft it had been presented, and it is aimed at only achieving the minimum requirements of the Moneyval report.

The bill, which amends the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure and the Administration of Justice Act, provides, among other things, that a lawyer may be disqualified from practising if he/she has seriously, repeatedly or systematically fails to satisfy the obligations of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act or the Prevention of Money Laundering and Funding of
Terrorism Regulations. (The bill is carried in pdf below)

The law also regulates the setting up and operation of law firms and amends the provisions on the Committee for Advocates and Legal Procurators that acts under the Commission for the Administration of Justice to investigate, enquire into and decide upon any misconduct by any advocate or legal procurator in the exercise of the profession.

The Chamber of Advocates expressed 'utter dissatisfaction' that following its efforts in making proposals for the better regulation of the profession, the bill which has been presented in parliament was a far cry from the proposals which the profession believed would properly address the issues for enhanced standards and effective regulation.

"Up to a couple of months or so ago, the government of Malta for the first time, provided the Chamber with a draft of the Lawyers’ Bill based on the original draft prepared by the Chamber, but which contained amendments to some of the main provisions in that Bill, principally dealing with a number of matters on the regulatory architecture to be adopted. The chamber considered those amendments with an open mind, and in principle accepted the policy shift proposed by government. In this context, the chamber is amazed that now, government has made a complete volte face and decided to go down a completely different route, on which the chamber was never consulted. The reasons for this sudden and radical change in approach remain unexplained and indeed inexplicable," the chamber said. 

"It is evident, even by simply reading the objects and reasons of the bill, that what is driving the changes being proposed by the government of Malta in this bill is not the regulation of the profession in the manner that is most suitable for the profession and its further development as a strong and independent profession, but rather compliance with, what it considers to be the minimum possible, to conform to the dictates of the Moneyval report."

The chamber said it is well aware of the importance of the Moneyval assessment and it will be the last organ to stand in the way of ensuring that Malta makes the required standard.

"But what as a chamber we are after is effectively making that standard and not embarking on an exercise of window dressing without any effective in-roads made within the profession at all."

"The chamber believes that what is being proposed by the GoM in this respect is not fit for purpose, not even the purpose that the bill itself states is to be addressed."

The chamber said the profession needs a law  which recognises and acknowledges the role of the lawyer/advocate in a modern society as a trusted advisor to clients and not only as the advocate in court.

More has to be done to ensure a proper regulatory framework for the profession, which is not designed exclusively by reference to court work.

"The Bill as proposed is a half-hearted attempt to deal with Malta’s quest to make it through the Moneyval assessment. There is no genuine desire to regulate the profession in a manner which will enhance the profession in the public interest and in the interest of a stronger, and independent profession," it said.

Opposition also expresses concern

Earlier on Thursday, the shadow minister for justice, Jason Azzopardi also criticised the bill.

He said it confirmed how the government wanted to seize control of the institutions. It was now seeking to control the committee of advocates by ensuring that the majority of the members were appointed by the government.

The independence of the legal profession was essential in a democracy. Witout it there could be no rule of law, Azzopardi said.   

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