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MPs back tighter controls on lawyers

Reducing risk: Kim Wilson, the Government’s legal affairs spokeswoman, outlined the plans

Tighter controls are to be imposed on Bermuda lawyers to limit the improper use of funds.

Members of Parliament approved the changes to legislation designed to help the island comply with Financial Action Task Force rules.

Kim Wilson, the Government’s spokeswoman for legal affairs, told the House of Assembly last Friday that the Bermuda Bar Amendment Act 2018 was to further diminish the risk to the country of money laundering and terrorist financing in the legal industry, as well as to make revisions to related acts.

Included in the measures is the requirement for barristers, along with others such as shareholders and directors in control of professional companies, to apply to the Bar Council for a fit and proper person certificate that will allow them to “engage in the practice of law”.

The professional body can consider “evidence of conviction of certain criminal offences, cautions by the police, breaches of regulatory requirements” and other factors.

Scott Pearman, a One Bermuda Alliance backbencher, said the changes were “using a sledgehammer to crack a nut” and go “far too far”.

But Ms Wilson, who is also the Minister of Health, said: “We are actually living in a different time, it’s a new world order and the manifestation of money laundering and terrorism financing has been evident.

“All one needs to do is look at the newspaper, look at the news reports and you see episodes and instances of money laundering and terrorist financing.

“Any jurisdiction that’s named as a conduit, that has been used as a conduit for money laundering and terrorist financing will face terrible reputational risk.

“Bermuda, as an international financial centre, must take steps to adhere to the international standards of FATF.

“And yes, many colleagues would probably rightfully say that we may be going overboard using a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

“Regrettably it is the new world order and regrettably that’s the position that we find ourselves in.”

Leah Scott, deputy Opposition leader, asked: “Suppose you have a lawyer that’s convicted of maybe drunk driving or domestic violence or possession of marijuana, does that make him a bad person or just somebody that makes stupid decisions?

“Does that affect his ability to practise as a lawyer and should that be the basis upon which a lawyer should not be allowed to practise?”

She added: “If I believe that spanking my children is OK does that make me violent and I can’t practice law?

“If I go to a bar and I get into a fight with somebody does that make me violent and should prohibit me from practising law?”

Ms Wilson emphasised these were factors the Bar Council would have “regard to” and a professional complaints committee could rule on disputes.