The Malta Independent 19 June 2021, Saturday

Clear that there is ‘no comprehensive plan or vision’ to regulate legal profession, lawyers lament

Thursday, 10 June 2021, 18:23 Last update: about 8 days ago

The Chamber of Advocates has lamented at the “piecemeal approach” being adopted for the regulation of the legal profession, saying that a newly tabled bill makes it clear that the government has no “comprehensive plan or vision” and that no “well-defined strategy” is being followed.

In an open letter to its members, Chamber of Advocates President Louis Degabriele noted how a newly proposed bill – Bill 217 – proposes to amend and even delete provisions which were enacted into law on a few weeks ago, on 20 April this year.

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This “is ample evidence of the absence of any well thought-out and considered strategy to regulate the profession”, the letter reads.

The Chamber again appealed to the government – as it has done more than once now – to suspend any further legal amendments and instead speak to all the stakeholders concerned in order to ascertain what is required to properly regulate the sector in the 21st century.

Turning specifically to the proposed Bill 217, Degabriele wrote that there are a number of issues which need re-visiting – primary amongst those a new concept which seems to divide the legal profession between the conventional advocate (ie: a lawyer) and a “provider of legal services”.

The division here creates a distinction between those who have graduated from law and those who have graduated and then gone on to obtain a warrant to practice as an advocate.  The university law degree is merely a prerequisite which one requires before obtaining a warrant, and does not entitle its holder to carry the title of advocate.

“I have to admit that it was a complete surprise for the Chamber that over the past few years a number of law graduates from the University of Malta have elected not to sit for their warrant exam, accordingly they have not qualified as advocates and should not be considered as such”, Degabriele said.

“Nonetheless, it seems that a number of them, and we understand that this is quite a sizeable number, have employed themselves with companies and even the Government of Malta in positions where they are required to give legal advice and provide other services which technically should only be provided by duly warranted advocates”, he continued. 

The Chamber disagrees that this situation should now be legitimised simply by creating a new class of “professional” termed providers of legal services, particularly when it is remains unclear what the term legal services means or includes, Degabriele observed.

“Anyone who wishes to provide legal services ought to be subjected to the same rules and warrant examination as an advocate, save for European Union rules in connection with the mutual recognition of quaifications.  The general public ought to have certainty and the assurance that any person purporting or holding him/herself out as providing legal advice or guidance to others has gone through the proper tests and has successfully met the proper requirements before such person is allowed by the state to provide such guidance and advice”, he continues.

The Chamber expressed its belief that this is a major change which requires further discussion before simply being adopted.

The Chamber also objected to a number of, more technical, changes which would be enacted through Bill 217.

It said that it is prepared to “immediately offer its participation for a joint team to review and propose appropriate and comprehensive legislation to regulate the profession.”

“The Chamber trusts that the Government of Malta will find the above proposal acceptable and that together we can work towards a stronger legal profession.”

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