Thu | Dec 3, 2020

Orville Taylor | Lawyers do law, Reid read law

Published:Sunday | July 28, 2019 | 12:00 AM

If I am going to rewire my house for the purpose of upgrading my service from JPS, no matter how competent the electrician is, unless he is board certified and licensed, his work is invalid. If one is importing goods, the person signing the documents must be a licensed custom broker, and if you are dispensing medicine, you have to be a certified pharmacist. This is not about any professional parochialism about some professions being ‘noble’, because a certified early-childhood educator or nanny is nobler than any ‘boasy’ egocentric degree-filled professional, including academics.

Licensing and certification is not about some exclusive club where peers rub shoulders and exchange notes and stories. It is about protecting the vulnerable public from quacks, cheats, and other types of ‘obeahmen/women’. If one is not a lawyer, he must not try to pass himself off as one. Similarly, he is not qualified to give advice which has stature before a court. Don’t get me wrong, there are areas of law where the knowledge of most lawyers, even those in the specific field, is actually inferior to or less robust than other professionals.

For example, my first port of call in import and export legislation is going to be an experienced broker. In labour law, with the exception of maybe literally a handful, I would seek counsel of trade unionist Lambert Brown over many senior counsel and almost all junior ones with breast milk on their lips. However, if I am going to take a matter to court, I need an attorney. Full stop.

Fulfilling requirements

Certification and licensing is indispensable because the public must have some standard that the individual who is providing the service has fulfilled a minimum set of requirements for the respective occupation. Having a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree is an important step in the fulfilment of the requirement to practise law. However, while indispensable, it is far from sufficient. It is no different from where one who wishes to make a career as a university lecturer. Having a master’s and a body of knowledge and research are certainly important milestones. But, if one wants to be a senior lecturer or professor, he has to have a PhD.

So, once more as the fabric unravels, we find more and more persons popping up in the saga, which seems to have the former minister of education, Ruel Reid, and president of the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU) in a ‘deep ship’ which has more leaks than the explanations given for the lack of transparency and glaring improprieties. Now, we discover that Reid’s wife, Sharen Thomas Reid, has occupied the post of legal affairs manager at the CMU since 2017. Initially flagged that she is not a member of the Jamaica Bar Association (JAMBAR), it is now being confirmed that Thomas Reid is not an attorney.

For general information, it must be noted that being a member of JAMBAR is neither here nor there. What matters is whether he or she is authorised by the General Legal Council (GLC) to practise law in Jamaica. This occurs after a period of training after the LLB, deep scrutiny by the GLC, and finally the issuing of a practising certificate. Without this ‘serfitikit’, even with the credentials from Norman Manley, or the other two law schools, one is still not authorised to practise as an attorney. It also should be noted, nonetheless, that if one is a trained lawyer, full-time employed with the Government, one needs not have such documentation.

Indeed, the GLC’s own site reads, “Attorneys-at-law in the full-time employment of the Government of Jamaica (who do not have a private practice) are not required to have a practising certificate.”

Still, having established that Thomas Reid is not an attorney as qualified above, the question is, “Is she unqualified for the job?” I do not know what the stated perquisites for employment in the post are. However, if the job description says a certain number of years of experience and a degree in law, that is an LLB, the issue of her being or not being a lawyer is at best moot. In some instances, in the practice of industrial relations and human resources management, one might find exceptional candidates who are engaged to fill a post on a temporary basis with the distinct proviso that the employee completes the qualification within the contractual period, usually between one to three years.

The sanctity of professional borders

Of course, all of this is speculation, and given the rancid smell of this whole debacle, I have to keep the benefit of the doubt to myself.

Yet, for all the clear breaches of procedures and the public trust, I have to totally side with Emile Leiba and JAMBAR in recognising the sanctity of professional borders. Having listened to all involved, including at least two senior attorneys who are of deep orange tint, I have to emphasise that there is a big difference between something being legally wrong and morally or ethically repugnant. Reid’s attorney, the eponymously sounding Hugh Wildman, noted for taking outlier positions, has asserted that while his client might have committed breaches, there is no basis for criminal proceedings against him.

Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn has given her opinion to the Financial Investigation Division (FID), suggesting that there are possibly two statutory and two common law breaches, which could be criminal. She, however, cautioned that other evidence has to be obtained in order for a successful prosecution to take place. Now, you see why the practice of law cannot be left up to amateurs like me.

True, any reasonable individual, including non-lawyers, would conclude that Reid and his right-hand man have carried long bags. However, not every action of the seamen in the ship’s hold bottoms out into a crime.

Still, we know that all is not right and Reid knew when right is wrong.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.