Monday, April 22, 2013
Monday, April 22, 2013
Here follows remarks by Prime Minister Perry Christie at the ceremony to mark the opening of the Bahamas Bar Association‘s new office complex April 19, 2013:
I would like to acknowledge the presence of the Honourable Chief Justice, Sir Michael Barnett; the President of the Court of Appeal, the Honourable Madam Justice Anita Allen; the Honorable Attorney-General, Senator Allyson Maynard-Gibson, and the Minister of State for Legal Affairs, Damien Gomez MP; and the other distinguished guests gathered here this afternoon.
I would also like to extend greetings to the Chairperson of the Bar Council and President of the Bahamas Bar Association, Mrs. Ruth Bowe-Darville, and her colleagues on the Council.
I extend these collegial salutations not only in my capacity as Prime Minister but as a member of the bar myself – a very senior member, I should add, albeit one who now observes the ebb and flow of professional life safely from afar!
It really is a pleasure to be among my colleagues at the bar this afternoon.
I therefore thank you for inviting me to share this occasion with you and to bring brief remarks.
Distinguished guests, fellow lawyers, ladies and gentlemen:
We are here to mark an important milestone in the life of the Bahamas Bar Association. Securing and owning its very own building has long been a dream of the Association.
And in fulfilling that dream on this particular site you could not have done better.
The late Sir Kendal Isaacs QC, after whom the Council Room here is named, was the first president of The Bahamas Bar Association and, as fate would have it, a former resident of this building as well.
Indeed the Isaacs-North family connection runs even deeper in the terra firma upon which we stand today.
The restaurant here is named in honour of the original residents, Basil and Audrey North who was Sir Kendal’s sister.
Indeed Basil and Audrey raised their family here.
Two of their children, Dr. Gail Saunders and attorney Terry North, have made outstanding contributions to The Bahamas. Indeed Gail is the pre-eminent historian of our times and, lest we forget, Gail was also married to the late Winston Saunders, one of the great cultural icons of the modern Bahamas who was himself a leading member of the bar.
The Isaacs family connection to the Bahamas bar runs wider still, with legal luminaries such as retired Supreme Court Justice, Jeannie Thompson, who was a niece of Sir Kendal’s, and her sister, Heather, and other senior members of the bar, including Oswald Isaacs, another nephew of Sir Kendal’s.
And so the selection of this particular site has many historical points of interest for the legal profession and one of the leading families of the law in our country.
The Bar Council is also to be congratulated on choosing a location that is readily accessible to the ever-growing mass of humanity on this, the capitol island of our country. This central location will be a welcome convenience for very many of those lay persons in the community who will have occasion to make direct contact with the Bar Association for one reason or another.
I therefore commend you on taking this important step forward.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen:
It has been suggested that The Bahamas has more lawyers per capita than any other country in the world. Whether this be statistically correct or not, there is no denying that the profession has grown by leaps and bounds, and that it continues to do so.
Most impressive of all in this regard is the enormous growth that has taken place in the number of women admitted to the bar in the modern era. I am advised that women may even now account for the majority at the bar or, if not, it is certainly nearing that mark.
This is especially remarkable when one considers that the first female member of the bar, the late Patricia Cozzi, was admitted in 1953, just sixty years ago; and that the second female lawyer, Eileen Dupuch Carron, was called nine years after that in 1962; and that the third female lawyer, Jeannie Thompson was called three years after that in 1965.
So, we have indeed come a long way in a comparatively short period of time. This gender-equalization is, of course, a wonderful thing for the profession and for our country as a whole.
Indeed, I hope that the day is not too far off when gender inequality in our country, whether under our constitution or otherwise, will be a thing of the past. There really can be no moral, philosophical, juridical, or other justification for gender bias or gender inequality in a modern, enlightened society such as we hold ourselves out to be.
At any rate, the ever increasing population of the bar presents both exciting opportunities and pressing challenges.
High on this list must be the need for lawyers to develop a higher degree of specialization. Just as “general practitioners” in medicine have become an endangered species because patients are demanding specialists in the various branches of medicine, so, too, lawyers must meet popular demand for specialists within the various areas of law. Being a generalist is no longer going to cut it, at least not for the new generation of lawyers coming on stream.
It is important, therefore, for lawyers to develop specialized legal expertise. It is equally important that the public have a clear idea of just who the specialists are and who the leaders in the respective fields of law are.
To better assist the public in this regard, I am pleased to make it known that very soon additional Queen’s Counsel – or QCs – will be appointed.
The primary aim in making these new appointments will be to ensure that the general public and international investors alike have a wider and more balanced choice of the leading counsel available to them in the various disciplines of law.
Indeed, I would venture to say that unless these additional appointments are made, those lawyers who are already QCs will have an unfair commercial advantage over those other lawyers who are also acknowledged leaders of the profession in their various areas of specialization but who were overlooked when appointments were made in the past.
Thus, the QCs who are about to be appointed will cover not only various areas of commercial law but other under-represented areas at the inner bar, including family law, constitutional and administrative law, and criminal law. The result should be an inner bar that is more representative of the leadership of the profession within the various areas of specialization at the bar.
Before I take my seat, I should like to leave you with these challenges which I hope you will agree are worthy of your active attention as you seek to make the Bar Association more responsive to the demands of its position of influence in our nation:
1. Firstly, improvements in the disciplinary machinery of the bar need to be effected so that lawyers who fail to adhere to the standards of integrity required of members of the bar are dealt with severely. The offenders in this regard constitute a very small minority of lawyers but they give us all a bad name. Indeed they do major damage to public confidence in the integrity of the profession. The enforcement of ethical standards must therefore remain a matter of the highest priority.
2. Secondly, continuing legal education should become mandatory. My government stands at the ready to introduce whatever amendments to the Legal Professional Act may be necessary to make this a reality. Lawyers need to stay current with the ever-evolving jurisprudence of our country. Continuing Education is the best way of ensuring that they do.
3. Thirdly, lawyers of five years standing or more should undertake to do no less than 18 hours of pro bono – or free legal work – on an annual basis. This is just 1.5 hours a month! But what a difference it can make in the lives of ordinary people who simply cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.
4. Fourthly, Queen’s Counsel should undertake to act as leading counsel in pro bono cases within their areas of specialization at least twice per year. I am gratified to learn that based on the initiatives of the Chief Justice and the President of the Court of Appeal some system of pro bono work by the Inner Bar may already be under active consideration.
5. Fifthly and finally, I would encourage the Bar Association to establish a public education arm dedicated to the education of the public in general and young Bahamians in particular about the Constitution and about civics generally. Let me add that I would encourage all members of the bar to take an active part in the town hall meetings of the Constitutional Commission, the first of which in New Providence will be held this coming Monday at the Diplomat Centre.
Madam President of the Bar :
I end as I began by commending you and your colleagues for the initiative you have shown in establishing these new headquarters as the permanent home of the Bar Association. Well done, and good luck!