Recently, members of the Disciplinary Committee of the St. Lucia Bar Association were appointed by the Chief Justice acting in consultation with the Bar Council, as required under the provisions of the Legal Profession Act, No. 31 of 2001.
Members of the Committee met in September for the third (3rd) time in order to finalise their procedure and have scheduled three meetings for November and December in order to deal with various complaints. The Committee has to date received forty-five (45) complaints from members of the public about local attorneys-at-law.
As part of the continuing public education programme of the Attorney Generalís Chambers on the Legal Profession Act of 2001, the following information on the procedure for making a complaint against an attorney-at-law is provided:
1. What is the Disciplinary Committee?
The Disciplinary Committee (Disciplinary Committee) is a body established by the Legal Profession Act of 2001 for the purpose of dealing with complaints against attorneys-at-law in St. Lucia. The Committee has the power to discipline all persons registered as attorneys-at-law, in accordance with the provisions of the Act.
2. How many members does the Disciplinary Committee have?
The Disciplinary Committee is comprised of seven members including the Secretary, who is also the Registrar of the High Court.
3. How long will members of the Committee serve?
Members are appointed to hold office for not more than three years and are eligible for appointment.
4. What power does the Committee have?
When the Disciplinary Committee hears an application, it can:
(a) dismiss the application;
(b) impose fines on an attorney-at-law who is the subject of the complaint;
(c) reprimand the attorney-at-law;
(d) order the attorney-at-law to pay the person complaining compensation and expenses incidental to the hearing of the complaint; and
(e) make any order it sees fit.
In addition the Committee can also refer a complaint to a High Court judge sitting in Chambers where the conduct is so serious so as to possibly merit suspension from practice or removal from the Roll.
5. Who can make a complaint before the Disciplinary Committee
The following persons can make a complaint before the Disciplinary Committee;
(a) a client
(b) a member of the public with permission from the Committee;
(c) the Registrar of the High Court;
(d) any member of the Committee;
(e) any Court of law.
6. Who can appear before the Disciplinary Committee?
(a) the person making the complaint;
(b) the attorney-at-law who is the subject of the complaint;
(c) attorneys-at-law representing either of the above; and
(d) witnesses for both parties.
7. What sort of matters will cause the Disciplinary Committee to discipline an attorney-at-law?
Generally, an attorney may be disciplined if he or she breaches any of the provisions of the Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics may be found in copies of the Legal Profession Act, No. 31 of 2001.
Some kinds of breaches can amount to professional misconduct depending on the circumstances, while other breaches are automatically considered professional misconduct.
When it hears a complaint, the Disciplinary Committee will consider whether the conduct of the attorney in question, amounts to some sort of misconduct. For example, the attorney in question might fail to do something he or she should have done. In other cases, the Disciplinary Committee will need to decide whether an attorney did something they should NOT have done.
In short, they will make a decision based on whatever evidence is available to them on a case by case basis.
8. How can a complaint be made?
An application may be made by sending an application in the prescribed form accompanied with an affidavit by the applicant, to the Secretary of the Disciplinary Committee, who is also the Registrar of the High Court.
A person wishing to make a complaint against an attorney-at-law, should go to the Registrar of the High Court and obtain an application form for making a complaint. That person will also have to swear to an affidavit before a justice of the peace or Notary Royal. That affidavit should be attached to a signed and completed application form.
Once completed the form and affidavit should be returned in a sealed envelope to the Registrar at the High Court. It should be clearly addressed to: The Secretary of the Disciplinary Committee, High Court Registry, Peynier Street, Castries.
The Registry of the High Court is located at the ground floor of the High Court, across from Parliament and next to Constitution Park, on Peynier Street.
9. What happens after the Secretary receives an application?
The Committee will fix a day for hearing the application/complaint if it appears that there is at least a case at first glance which merits further investigation. The Secretary will then serve on the person making a complaint and the attorney-at-law a copy of the application and affidavit and a notice of a date of the hearing within seven (7) days of the application/complaint being made.
10. How soon will the hearing happen after an application/complaint is made?
The date of the hearing cannot be less than twenty-one (21) days or more than twenty-eight (28) days from the date the notice of the application, has been sent to the parties. Or in other words, not less than three weeks from the application but not more than a month.
11. What happens if some members of the Disciplinary Committee are not present at a hearing?
The hearing can proceed as long as 3 members are present.
12. What happens if one or either of the parties to the application/complaint fails to show?
The Disciplinary Committee may decide to proceed to hear and decide the application in their absence.
13. What documents will a person making a complaint have to provide?
The application and affidavit and any other document that the person making the complaint wants to rely on.
14. Will the attorney-at-law know what the complaint is about and what documents the complainant will be relying on?
Yes, and the attorney-at-law against whom the complaint has been made will be able to inspect copies of the documents.
15. What other sort of evidence can the Disciplinary Committee rely on?
The Disciplinary Committee in addition to the affidavits and documentary evidence can also call upon parties and witnesses to the hearing to give oral evidence if it chooses. It can also choose to rely on the affidavits only.
16. How soon must the Committee notify parties of the outcome of the hearing?
If the Disciplinary Committee does not give its findings at the hearing of the complaint, it must do so within fourteen (14) days.
17. How will hearings be conducted?
The hearing will take place in private.
18. What happens if the Disciplinary Committee does not find that the attorney-at-law has done something wrong?
The Disciplinary Committee will dismiss the application/complaint if it is satisfied that there has been no misconduct on the part of the attorney-at-law.
19. What happens if the Disciplinary Committee fails to do anything under the law that it is required to do within the set time?
A applicant/complainant can apply to the Appeals Commission to hear and decide the complaint which was made to the Disciplinary Committee.
ATTORNEY GENERALíS CHAMBERS