The Malta Independent 1 March 2021, Monday

Chamber of Advocates slams government’s Bill to regulate profession as ‘unfit for purpose’

Monday, 22 February 2021, 13:59 Last update: about 6 days ago

The Chamber of Advocates has slammed the government’s recently introduced Bill to regulate the profession, arguing that it is, at best, “unfit for purpose”.

In 2008 the Chamber of Advocates published a consultative paper expressing the need for regulation of the legal profession, a regulatory architecture that would reflect the significant evolution within the profession in the last several years.

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The Chamber has since then been vigorously pursuing the enactment of a new law to regulate the profession. “In 2021 the Government of Malta proposed Bill 181 in parliament, purportedly to regulate the legal profession – without any consultation with the Chamber.”

“Twleve years after the profession had expressed the need for regulation, the Government of Malta reacts to try and allay the concerns expressed by Moneyval in its report on Malta and how the legal profession constitutes a high risk to the jurisdiction,” the statement read.

“It is uncanny, but had the call by the Chamber to regulate the profession been heeded at the right time, that report would never have been possible.  Now we need to pick up the pieces.”

“No, Government’s reaction now is no articulation of its genuine desire to heed the advice of the Chamber that the profession needs better regulation, but rather to plug, with the least possible effort, the gaping holes discovered in the MoneyVal report about the profession’s regulation both at point of entry and on an on-going basis.”

This 12 year saga has been sustained by the Chamber with perseverance and vigour – because it is necessary to ensure a strong and independent profession above all else, the statement continued. “We do not want to be perceived as high risk to the jurisdiction; we want to make sure that those who do not conform to the professional and regulatory standards required of members of the profession today be sanctioned in a decisive manner. Those members who have no problem in bringing disrepute on their profession should be dealt with firmly.”

“The anomaly in all of this, is that whilst the Chamber, the professional body for the category, has been promoting higher standards of regulation for the profession, it is the state that has been pushing back – quite extraordinarily, as one would, at least in a normal jurisdiction, expect the inverse situation.”

“Frankly, had Bill 181 which is purportedly intended to regulate the profession, been up to scratch, it would have been of little relevance to the Chamber whether it was the result of Chamber’s or MoneyVal’s pressures.”

The real problem is that the Bill as presented is substantively a far cry from the expectations of the Chamber for a proper regulatory structure for the profession in 2021, the statement added.

“Indeed the Chamber is already on record stating that the bill itself is not fit for purpose. The real efforts should be placed in a full understanding of the need to regulate the profession, and then articulated in a law that evidences the genuine desire to do just that, and which only as a natural consequence addresses the shortcomings highlighted by Moneyval. What Bill 181 does is superficially try to deal with the latter and completely dismiss the former.”

The Chamber has on several occasions asked why all its proposals have never seen the light of day. “Clearly not all members have their profession’s best interest at heart and there are those who are more interested in retaining the status quo rather than having stricter regulation and being held more accountable.”

“It is uncanny that these members, who are not many in number, have, through their conduct actually created the need for tougher and stricter regulation. So it is no surprise that they are the ones who are using all efforts to remain unregulated.”

“Bill number 181, unless amended significantly, remains, at best unfit for purpose. Not only does it fail to address the real issues within the profession, it is just as inadequate to meet the requirements of MoneyVal, as it is simply a window-dressing exercise without any real regulatory effect on the legal profession. It is shocking that after twelve years, this is the best attempt that the Government could put together.”

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