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Chamber Questions Urgency For Proposed Warrant Changes, Refutes Suggestion Lawyers Were Consulted Before

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The president of Malta’s Chamber of Advocates Louis Degabriele has refuted suggestions by a Justice Ministry spokesperson that its reaction to proposed changes to Malta’s lawyer warrant system was disproportionate. 

Reacting to a statement by the chamber yesterday, a spokesperson for the ministry told Lovin Malta that the backlash that had erupted as a result of the proposal was not justified given that the minister had every intention of discussing the issue with the chamber. 

They said that a meeting had already been scheduled to take place next week. 

Despite the ministry claims, Degabriele told Lovin Malta that in reality, it was only after he had contacted the minister after the Bill was tabled in parliament, that a meeting was set up. 

Chamber should have been consulted before Bill was tabled 

He noted that the chamber’s statement to the media had been issued before the meeting was set up. Moreover, he said that if the minister was interested in discussing the matter with the chamber, one would have expected this to happen before any legislation was drafted. 

Turning to the substance of the proposed amendments, Degabriele acknowledged that “the minister may well have things in mind which we are not aware of” and that certain statements might be made with other considerations in mind. 

“But unless those intentions and considerations are shared with us we can’t really have a position on them. We cannot comment on considerations that remain unarticulated,” Degabriele said. 

Degabriele again questioned why the government appeared to be in such a rush to have the law passed, especially when considering that a whole set of legal changes had been approved in April this year. 

The chamber, he said, had made a number of proposals as part of that process, stressing, however, that the amendments being proposed now were never mentioned.

Minister should not regulate profession

Under the proposed changes, some financial services which currently require one to possess a warrant would no longer do so. The Bill also proposes that those law graduates who have not obtained a warrant be regulated by a set of rules determined by the minister. 

“As a point of principle, having the minister regulate the profession is definitely not desirable,” Degabriele said. He also pointed out that as things stood, the chamber had not seen the proposed regulations and could therefore not comment further. 

Degabriele explained that the chamber had no objection to there being a distinction between lawyers practicing in court and other lawyers. “What we are saying, however, is that these lawyers should be subject to the same regulatory regime and code of ethics, as well as the same entry requirement, as court lawyers.” 

He stressed that there were many individuals who obtained a law degree and who had no interest in working in court. 

In this regard, he said that while the chamber believed that anyone offering legal services needed to fulfill a number of requirements that went beyond basic academic qualifications, an exception could be made for in-house lawyers. 

“If a company wants to employ somebody with a law degree who does not have a warrant, that’s fine because they are only giving advice to the company. A bank or a company knows what it’s doing and in such cases, the person giving the advice is considered an employee,” he clarified.  

Practicing law without a warrant a criminal offence 

“As things stand, today they can’t be called advocates. It is not true that one does not need a warrant to give legal advice. This is where the confusion arises because many people think that getting a degree makes you a lawyer and that the warrant is just a formality,” Degabriele said.  

He said that one needed to distinguish between the oath taken by lawyers for them to be able to practice before the court, and a warrant, which allows a graduate in law to practice as a lawyer and give legal advice. 

In fact, Degabriele pointed to Article 42 of the Code of Police Laws, which clearly states that any person who gives legal advice, seeks out clients, or drafts any contracts or documents normally reserved for advocates, without being duly qualified, is considered to be a tout and to have committed a criminal offence.

He said that while there would definitely be differences, he was convinced that both the ministry and chamber ultimately wanted to come up with a solution that helped the profession. 

“We probably agree on the aims and I’m also sure that we’ll also have disagreements but I’m sure that like mature adults we can sit around a table and find a solution.” 

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