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2006-01-26 17:27:08

Incompetent Lawyers Pose Threat To Legal System

And so the rule of law continues to disintegrate as we move inexorably toward a state of total lawlessness.

Chief Justice Sir Burton Hall says that there are too many halfbaked lawyers in this country who are taking the public for a ride.

Sir Burton didn't put it in quite those words during the official opening of the legal year, but that was the message in essence.

These "inexperienced and ill-prepared practitioners" were choosing to skip the legal requirement that they complete their pupillage after being called to the Bar, he said, and instead were setting up shop, "many as sole practitioners, disserving an unquestioning and unsuspecting public".

Painful though it was, judges frequently had to watch litigants being harmed by incompetent lawyers, but were constrained by law from intervening, Sir Burton observed.

For many Bahamians, the law represents the ultimate in social prestige. It is also viewed as a way to make a fast buck, regardless of the ethical niceties called for in a lawyer-client relationship.

As Sir Burton pointed out, Bar membership now stands at 778, of whom 189 or 24 per cent were enrolled during his 52 months in office. That means that 44 lawyers were called to the Bar in each of the last 4-1/3 years.

That is a phenomenal number, given the size of the Bahamian population, "and starkly points to how bottom-heavy demographically the legal profession is," Sir Burton noted.

In other words, one quarter of the profession is composed of legal, greenhorns whose inexperience and many times questionable ethics are making a mockery of the judicial system.

Judging from the (legal) horror tales told daily, the Chief Justice was not exaggerating the problem. We hear of lawyers failing to research land titles properly, leaving clients exposed to subsequent lawsuits over ownership, lawyers who have prolonged legal transactions needlessly because of errors in the paperwork, and lawyers refusing to turn over funds collected on behalf of a client.

Just how shoddy the standard of legal work in this country has become is borne out by the fact that last year 85.6 per cent of the 759 probate applications submitted to the courts had to be sent back for correction.

Worse yet is the fact that these shysters are able to get away with short-changing their clients because the legal profession protects its own, no matter what. Try getting a lawyer to sue another lawyer, or appealing to the Bar Council and see how far you get.

The result is that the entire society suffers as a consequence because, as in all things, we refuse to demand accountability from those who serve us. And so the rule of law continues to disintegrate as we move inexorably toward a state of total lawlessness.

By: Nicki Kelly, from her Between The Lines column as published in The Punch.

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