The Bar Council takes notice of the publication of the Local Content Bill No. 21 of 2021 in the Official Gazette dated 15th December 2021.
The said Bill is expected to be passed in the National Assembly soon, and possibly as early as today. That is, some eight (8) working days after its publication and during the Christmas holiday season.
The aforesaid period does not give sufficient time for considered comment, engagement and falls well below the legal minimum standard for meaningful consultation.
A draft copy of the Bill, was not made available to the Bar Association prior to its publication, as is usually the course, for consideration and comment; same touching and concerning legal services.
With less than one (1) working day notice, the Bar Association was invited to a meeting, with other bodies, to discuss the Bill. Discussions convened without having the benefit of a draft Bill. Notwithstanding the short notice, tight timeline and absence of the proposed Bill, the Bar Association made submissions thereon. Since the publication of the Bill, the Bar Association has sought further engagement, made comments and raised queries to which there has been no considered response despite the undertaking to do so by 2:15pm yesterday 28th December, 2021.
Fundamentally as regards legal services:
i. The provisions of the Bill collide with other legislative instruments.
With regard to legal services, the practice of law in this jurisdiction is governed by the Legal Practitioners Act, Cap. 4:01 (LPA). No recognition appears to have been given to the fact that ONLY Attorneys-at-Law admitted to practice Law in Guyana under the LPA, may hold themselves out to be entitled to perform legal services in Guyana.
ii. The provision made for legal services is not in accordance with similar provisions in other jurisdictions with Local Content Legislation, such as Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania where it is mandatory for the legal services in the country to be provided by nationals with and established office in county, requirements advanced and submitted by the Bar Association, so far, without being given effect.
There is no justification for the provision of legal services to be anything other than 100% (mandatory).
In its present form, the regulatory framework of the Bill, is in conflict with, and does not give effect to the expressed intention of the Bill in its very long title.
Local Content legislation is of utmost importance in the current economic construct of Guyana. While we welcome this step of legislative force, as we advocated for during Local Content Policy engagements (distinct from consultations on the Bill), it is of equal importance that same comply and not conflict with legal requirements.
Further, we note the comments made by the Hon. Attorney General, Mr. M. A. Nandlall, SC, MP during the debate today in the National Assembly which give the impression that Guyanese Legal Practitioners do not have the capacity and or are not qualified to handle matters which he described as “technical legal documents” and “joint venture agreements”, as a seeming justification for the target of 90% instead of the requested 100% by the Bar Association. It further gives the impression that persons who are not duly admitted to practice law in Guyana under the LPA may do so, performing legal services.
We outright reject these ill-informed comments particularly since we have not, despite request, not been told what areas of law members of the Bar in Guyana are not qualified to practice (there being no such limitation in the LPA) and who is to provide the other 10%.
Such comments by the Hon. Attorney General are without basis, empirical or otherwise, in violation of the LPA as aforesaid and wholly disrespectful to members of the Bar who already perform the said services including Senior Counsel.
There ought to be a withdrawal of these comments on the record and an unreserved apology to members of the Guyana Bar.
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