No lawyer is above the law

08/12/2008 15:12

A lawyer is not above the reach of the law. The Legal Practitioners Act and the Code of Ethics for lawyers declare that lawyers are accountable for the actions they take and as a professional every lawyer must behave professionally, responsibly, and ethically. Unfortunately, there are lawyers who are in breach of their own legislation and the Code of Ethics when providing their services to consumers. However, the Fiji Law Society (FLS) president Mr Dorsami Naidu finds it right to defend his members who are in breach of their guiding documents instead of ensuring these are stringently adhered to. 

Consumers have registered complaints against lawyers for malpractice, misrepresentation, inappropriate billing, negligence, breach of fiduciary duties, and breach of contract among many other instances. Despite such breaches, due recognition and action fail to be taken on the consumer complaints, which the Fiji Law Society (FLS) has allowed to accumulate. Mr Naidu commented last week for “the Council to do its work and leave lawyers alone.”  Why should the Council leave lawyer related consumer complaints alone when the FLS as the body established to provide consumers with redress against lawyers is failing in its job. If FLS had actively pursued consumer complaints against its members and disciplined them, then the complaints figure would not have reached 200 or more and consumers would have been given justice in their respective cases. It is because the FLS is not doing its job that consumers have to knock on the door of the Council for redress. The Council is treating complaints against lawyers like it would deal with any other consumer issues. Lawyers charge hefty fees to their clients and it is a matter of concern when the expected services are not delivered.

Furthermore, Mr Naidu in defending his members is justifying the breaches of the two documents that guide the services rendered by lawyers to their clients. The neutrality and objectivity that is expected of the FLS president is simply absent. In addition, the Council has registered a consumer complaint against Mr Naidu himself for taking money upfront and not rendering the services. The self regulatory nature of FLS can not be relied on to resolve such consumer complaints.

 The Council is therefore calling for a holistic reform to the current system of self regulation, the introduction of an independent regulator to cover the whole of the legal service industry; and available sanctions to tackle firms providing poor service. An independent body with transparent and democratic decision-making powers will ensure that consumers would be heard. Such a body will no doubt struggle to strike the right balance to regulate previously unregulated professionals or experts. Fundamentally, this body must be given the tools it needs to succeed as a regulator and it must have vested powers to sanction lawyers and seek judicial enforcement of the disciplinary consequences it imposes on the lawyers. Further, such body’s jurisdiction must be governed by a statute or law.