Bar Association expresses concern with AG office ceasing issuance of law licences

The Bar Association of Maldives has expressed concern with the Attorney General’s (AG) office indefinitely suspending issuance of licenses to practice law in December last year.

In a press statement today, the Bar Association noted that a number of newly graduated lawyers have since been awaiting licenses from the AG office.

The new graduates were “facing financial and professional losses” as a result of the delay, the Bar Association stated.

The AG office announced on December 17 that it was ceasing the issuance of licenses pending amendments to regulations governing the legal profession.

The office would resume issuing licenses once the amended regulations take effect, the announcement stated.

An official from the AG office told Minivan News today that the amendment or review process was still ongoing, adding that it was difficult to estimate a time for completion.

The Bar Association stated in its press release that it accepted that the regulations were “in need of reform”.

“And this association believes that the solution to this would be the submission of the legal profession bill to the People’s Majlis and its passage into law as soon as possible,” the statement read.

Pending the enactment of a law governing the legal profession, the Bar Association recommended that the AG office resume issuing licenses after amending the regulations in accordance with the draft legislation on the legal profession.

The draft legislation was formulated by the association and shared with the AG office.

Legal lacuna

A bill on the legal profession is included in the government’s legislative agenda (Dhivehi), to be submitted during the second session of the People’s Majlis for 2014.

In the absence of a law governing the legal profession when the new constitution was adopted in August 2008, parliament passed a General Regulations Act as parent legislation for over 80 regulations without a statutory basis, including the regulation governing lawyers.

Article 271 of the constitution states, “Regulations derive their authority from laws passed by the People’s Majlis pursuant to which they are enacted and are enforceable pursuant to such lawful authority. Any regulations requiring compliance by citizens must only be enacted pursuant to authority granted by a law enacted by the People’s Majlis.”

The parent act prolonged the lifespan of the regulations – which did not derive authority from an act of parliament – until new legislation could be passed. Parliament has since been extending the regulations for one year periods.

The last extension was approved in April 2013 with the next extension due in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, in a comprehensive report on the Maldivian justice system released in May 2013, UN Special Rapporteur for the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, Gabriela Knaul, expressed concern “about the absence of an independent self-regulating bar association or council that oversees the process of admitting candidates to the legal profession, provides for a uniform code of ethics and conduct, and enforces disciplinary measures, including disbarment.”

The AG office being the authority who regulated the legal profession was “contrary to the basic principles on the role of lawyers,” she wrote.

Powers to issue licenses to practice laws as well as enforce disciplinary measures should not rest with the executive, Knaul advised.

She recommended that parliament “should pass comprehensive supporting legislation for the legal profession,” which should be drafted following “comprehensive and substantive consultations with lawyers and should be in line with international principles.”

“The Special Rapporteur believes that the current draft bill on the legal profession needs a lot of revision as it centres on the creation of a Bar Council and neglects other necessary aspects, such as examination procedures to get a licence to practice and continuing education and training,” read the recommendations.

Moreover, Knaul recommended that a “self-regulating independent bar association or council should be urgently established to oversee the process of admitting candidates to the legal profession, provide for a uniform code of ethics and conduct, and enforce disciplinary measures, including disbarment.”

“The Bar Association should, as a matter of priority and in accordance with international standards and norms, develop a code of ethics applicable to all lawyers, which it should vigorously and coherently implement and enforce.”