BVI Legal Profession Act is finally enacted – Karen Gilbert
I can vividly remember being urgently flown out to the BVI just days after accepting a new role as a BVI lawyer. It was a two day trip, the aim of which was to get me admitted as a BVI lawyer before the imminent (or so it was thought) enactment of the Legal Profession Act. That was December 2006 and the controversial, much debated Legal Profession Act was finally enacted on 11 May 2015. We still await confirmation of the effective date so it is not quite law yet but we are closer than we have ever been to it.
The Legal Profession Act 2015 (the “LPA”) introduces various changes such as a new code of ethics to be followed by BVI lawyers and a requirement that any person practising BVI law in the BVI or outside the BVI holds a practising certificate. Save for a few anomalies which need to be addressed, the general premise of the legislation is good for the jurisdiction as it seeks to restrict people with little or no experience of the jurisdiction or no continuing link with the jurisdiction from providing BVI legal advice which can only raise the standard of the BVI advice provided globally.
The Roll of legal practitioners
The LPA has introduced a Roll of legal practitioners (the “Roll”) and any person whose name is not listed on the Roll will not be entitled to practise BVI law inside or outside the BVI. Although the names of all those persons currently admitted to practise as BVI lawyers will automatically be placed on the Roll, it will be more difficult to get listed on the Roll once the LPA is in force.
In addition to the Roll, the LPA has introduced a requirement for practising certificates which is new. Under the legislation, no person may practise BVI law inside or outside the BVI unless he holds a valid practising certificate. Such practising certificates will need to be renewed annually and any legal practitioner who practises BVI law without one risks being struck off the Roll.
Becoming admitted as a BVI legal practitioner
The LPA has introduced additional requirements to be met in order to get admitted and entitled to practise BVI law.
Minimum qualification period – 3-5 years
Until 1 January 2019, lawyers coming from the UK will need to have practised as a solicitor, barrister, advocate or attorney-at-law in the UK for at least three years before being eligible for admission in the BVI and from 1 January 2019 that three year practice period will increase to five years.
BVI residency requirement
Non BVI residents who are non belongers (for example, lawyers practising BVI law in the UK) will not be entitled to practise BVI law unless they are working in an overseas branch or affiliate of a law firm actually operating in the BVI.
Rights of audience before a Superior Court
Only solicitors with a right of audience before a Superior Court of record will be entitled to be admitted to practise BVI law. Although this is likely to cause some issues and will probably need to be amended, it most likely stems from the fact that there is no distinction between the rights of audience of barristers and solicitors in the BVI.
Much of the detail is yet to be ironed out by the underlying regulations which are still to be enacted. However, what is clear is that it will be more difficult for people to become admitted and entitled to practise BVI law and lawyers outside the BVI will only be entitled to practise BVI law if they work for a firm which has an office in the BVI. There will obviously be professional conduct and indemnity cover issues for those persons who disregard the new legislation.