As announced, representatives of the Chamber’s council last Monday held a meeting with the Minister of Justice. The agenda topic of that meeting centred around Bill 217, currently being discussed in parliament and which has as its object amendments to the regulation of the legal profession.
The meeting was cordial and focused on the issues that had been raised by the Chamber with respect to the profession and the need to enhance regulatory standards within the profession. Following the meeting, the Chamber representatives expressed satisfaction at the fact that the Minister was receptive to their concerns and, after a discussion, agreed to consider detailed submissions from the Chamber on changes to the Bill. The Chamber looks at this with cautious optimism, and augers that for the sake of the profession their representations and detailed submission on changes in the law will form the basis of a new regulatory regime for the profession.
The Chamber indicated to the Minister that its ultimate objective was to be able, with all stakeholders involved, to devise a comprehensive plan for the regulation of the profession. It also stated that there were a number of issues that were of key importance that needed to be changed in the current Bill 217, and that therefore they would be willing to make this interim step for Bill 217 to be improved and avoid having a regulatory framework that could be insidious to the profession in the short term until stakeholders had the time to devise a more comprehensive framework that would above all protect the public interest and clients dealing with the legal profession.
The Chamber stated that its base principle remains that no person should be able to provide any legal services to any other person for consideration unless that person has been awarded a warrant by the State – which is a confirmation by the state to the public that such person has not only achieved a minimum level of competence in the practice of law, but has been found to be fit and proper to be admitted to the profession; is of good conduct and repute; is part of a regulated profession and will be required on a continuing basis to observe a set of ethical principles in the conduct of his/her profession.
The following are the main principles articulated by the Chamber:
A. The Chamber showed its willingness to take into account the evolution of a strand within the profession that was not interested in litigation work in court – indeed it referred to its consultative paper published in 2008, which already acknowledged this position. In this context therefore, the Chamber accepted that there is a case to be made for law graduates who have no intention to work in court to be subjected to a different warrant examination, which is not focused on court procedures, as opposed to those who wish to exercise the profession as court lawyers, or as both court lawyers and advisors.
- However, in this respect, these should be considered as two strands of the same profession and not as two independent professions;
- Both strands of the profession should be regulated and individuals wishing to be admitted to either strand would need a “warrant” or authorisation to do so;
- This may require a change to the manner in which the warrant examinations are set, but not that they would fall outside the ambits of the profession and its regulatory framework;
- To avoid confusion in the minds of the general public, we may need to have a different nomenclature for the two strands, that would enable the public to distinguish between the two.
B. The requirements to be eligible for a warrant or authorisation in the case of both strands of the profession should be the same with some minor exceptions, such as:
- In the case of non-court lawyers, one could drop the requirement of Maltese as a language of the Court and the requirement for one-year practice in court, but one year training with a lawyer in a law office would still be required;
- The warrant examination, for those who wish to work in advisory or transactional work, and not in court, will be based on substantive law and ethics, without any procedure.
C. The Chamber emphasised the need of a definition of what constitutes legal services and what legal services can be provided by which strand of the profession, in the event that there will be two separate types of authorisation. It is important that at least, the basic principles are included in primary legislation and not a regulation. This is not something which should be left to a minister’s sole discretion, but the Committee of Advocates & Legal Procurators should have a significant role to play in this context, not merely a consultative one.
D. It is crucial that the two strands of the profession will remain subject to the same regulatory regime, the same code of ethics, and to the same regulator. The Committee for Advocates and Legal Procurators should have the same powers over non-court lawyers in matters of regulation and discipline. This is important for consistency and independence, as well as to retain the two as part of one profession.
E. Re-introduction of the definition and recognition of law-firms that may be composed of the two strands of the profession, but the right of audience in court is only given personally to an advocate not to the firm itself.
F. Re-introduction of the statutory recognition of the Chamber. The Chamber should remain the professional body for both strands of the profession as it is today.
The meeting ended with an agreement that the Chamber will be submitting to the Minister detailed changes to the Bill to implement these principles, together with its detailed views on how EU legal professionals can be admitted to the profession, through the mutual recognition of their professional qualifications. The Chamber expects to be in a position to make its submissions to the Minister by Monday 5th July 2021.
01 July 2021