In the last two instalments of Tales From The Courts, BU ventilated an aspect of land law that had the possible potential to cause problems for vendors and purchasers alike. This arose because of an Order given by Miss Kentish of the Barbados High Court. BU’s position evoked much argument from both sides of the issue.
Some well known counsel said that the Order was correct. Some, including it is reported, the a party to a sale and purchase and their counsel, held that the Order was a nullity and therefore refused to proceed with the purchase. It is not the intention of BU to go into the relative merits of this argument. We leave that to the lawyers to discuss among themselves.
What BU will do, however, is to fulfil its function, which is to serve the general Bajan public by pointing out the dilemma facing it. The fact that there are clearly two schools of legal thought within the legal fraternity on this issue of law, means that ultimately one is wrong and the other right. Therefore, it is clearly best for members of the general public, vendors and purchasers of land alike, to err on the side of caution. And it is clearly best for their counsel to be responsible enough to encourage them to do so.
It then follows that Miss Kentish and her cohorts ought also to err on the side of caution when giving orders that may well be overturned on appeal; or will cause counsel to advise their clients to withdraw from land transactions because they do not agree with the Order and consider it to be a nullity. What would it take to name the parties? A little more time? A bit more expense?
To ignore the fact that land transactions are placed at risk because many senior members of the Bar consider such an Order to be a nullity, is to display an arrogance and disregard for the well-being of society that the justice system is sworn and supposed to protect and SERVE.
However, as we all know, the Barbados legal system serves only those working within it. It hides and excuses their incompetence; it ignores their breaches of the Constitution that they are sworn to uphold; it provides them with salaries and other benefits and perquisites; it feeds their unbounded egos; it shuts its eyes to their discourtesies to the people who pay its salaries; and at the end of the day, it dispatches them all into honourable and well supported retirement as a reward for doing SFA. And all at the taxpayers’ expense.
We had hoped that the new Chief Justice would ring in the changes. But after a year in office, all he has done is talk A LOT, expose the system to a lawyer’s strike and likely will see himself sued under the Administration of Justice Act – and we DO mean LIKELY and BU will carry full reports of that if and WHEN it happens. Oh, and he has handed down a single judgement with a few others awaited the delay in which, in slavish imitation of those working under him, breaches the Constitution.
But let us also look at the situation with lawyers.
It is reported that Mr Andrew Pilgrim has said that there are some 800 lawyers in Barbados. Therefore, this begs a question. When a member of the general public goes to choose a lawyer, on what basis do they do this and what information is made available to them to assist with their choice of the right lawyer?
A Bajan resident in Barbados will almost always depend on nepotism or rumour or recommendation. A Bajan or someone of Bajan descent resident outside of Barbados will likely be inundated with recommendations from friends and family in Barbados. A foreigner will probably go to their counsel in their country of residence, who will in turn ask a few questions the answers to which are likely based on having met a lawyer from Barbados, so to go to him/her – “seems like a nice person.”
But what does the Bajan resident in Barbados, the Bajan or descendant resident abroad and advisers, or the foreigner, actually know about the qualifications, work experience, areas of experience and expertise and SUCCESS RATE of these Bajan lawyers?
The answer is “LITTLE OR NOTHING”.
You may then ask if it is different in the UK, the USA and Canada? The answer is YES IT CERTAINLY IS.
For example BU understands that Ontario’s (indeed Canada’s) leading counsel is, we are told, Paul B Schabas who practices at the firm of Blakes. Google his name and what you get as the first three hits on Google are:
Now, Google Barbados’ best known counsel, “Sir Henry Forde QC Barbados. What do you get?
We add one more for good measure: http://clarkes.com.bb/ . Finally, we get an idea of what Sir Henry’s practice actually is, thanks to one of the only law firms in Barbados that has a website of the sort one would expect in other jurisdictions. But, to get to this information, one must know that Sir Henry is a consultant of Clarke Gittens and Farmer.
Indeed, when you Google Sir Henry’s name, you do certainly get the impression that he is very important indeed. But it says NOTHING of his areas of expertise (unless you happen along Clarke Gittens and Farmer), but this says noting of his experience or SUCCESS as a lawyer, it merely lists his practice areas. BU freely admits that Sir Henry is a preeminent counsel (with excellent reason). Indeed, Sir Henry is a bad example for BU to have used, as he is one of the few lawyers in Barbados who could be excused for not providing his CV. But you get our point.
It is all a question of perception, or smoke and mirrors, in the legal profession. BU has stated its intention to completely demystify this as a public service. To break the mirrors and disperse the smoke. So let us address the perception.
There are 800 lawyers in Barbados, an alarming number of whom have been reduced to teefing clients’ money and other illegalities which, if they were not lawyers, would see them in jail. There are many reasons for these practices, one of which is that there are more lawyers than employment – and no lawyer would possibly consider doing what the rest of us have to do and supplementing their income by seeking additional employment, like pumping gas or stocking supermarket shelves. These under-employed will, of course, readily accept positions teaching law and BU does not necessarily (or at all) subscribe to the principal that, “Those who can, do and those who can’t, teach.” BU accepts that it takes time and experience and REPUTATION to build a practice.
Therefore, TODAY, lawyers need to attract business. That places them in the position of supplicants or employees.
If any member of the public applies for a job, they must provide a CV or resume of their education and experience. Therefore, it behoves people to demand a CV from those whom they wish to employ as lawyers. It behoves lawyers to provide CV/resume when trying to secure work. Just so the client knows and is comfortable that they have the requisite knowledge and experience to do the job. And we want it in writing so that it forms a basis for dismissal (or fraud) if the CV or resume is not true. In any case, as the rest of the world moves towards far greater transparency, why should the legal profession of Barbados not follow?
There is a famous Victorian cartoon that depicts a poor, shabbily dressed litigant and her starving child coming out of court in a state of great distress, accompanied by her rich, prosperous and extremely well-dressed lawyer. The caption reads something to the effect, “Stop blubbing, woman. You may have lost, but you have had the great honour of hearing ME plead your case.”
It would seem that in Barbados’ legal and judicial system, Victoriana is well and thriving. It is time we all stood up and