Wed | Nov 14, 2018

Embraced by Bar - Law fraternity opens arms to attorney with drug convictions

Published:Wednesday | December 20, 2017 | 12:00 AMLivern Barrett
Isat Buchanan

Isat Buchanan, the man who was authorised to practise as an attorney-at-law despite two convictions for drug possession, has been embraced by the Jamaican Bar Association (JAMBAR).

The decision of the General Legal Council (GLC) to issue Buchanan with a certificate allowing him to become an attorney ignited a firestorm of criticism in some quarters and commendation in other sections of the society.

The criticisms, according to legal insiders, came from some of the more established attorneys who were concerned that the decision to allow a two-time convict to practise law in Jamaica would tarnish the reputation of the profession.

On the other hand, Buchanan's story, first reported by The Gleaner last Thursday, has been hailed as a powerful testimony about rehabilitation.

Jacqueline Cummings, president of JAMBAR, acknowledged yesterday that some members of the legal fraternity in Jamaica were "perturbed" by the news that a man with two criminal convictions was being allowed into the profession.

"They weren't certain what happened, how it is that a person with convictions became a member of the profession," Cummings said, admitting that she, too, had concerns.

However, she said those concerns appear to have been allayed after the GLC outlined the process Buchanan was put through.

"Once I learnt the truth as to how he came to be in the profession ... I was satisfied," Cummings said.

"Once they [other attorneys] hear the process that this young man went through, then they might not be as concerned as they were."

Buchanan revealed, in an exclusive interview with The Gleaner last Tuesday, that in 1999, he was convicted in the United States for drug possession and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. This came three years after he was convicted in Jamaica for a similar offence.

But speaking on RJR's call-in programme 'Hotline' yesterday, Cummings revealed that the GLC, in considering Buchanan's case, relied on a case in Grenada involving a soldier who was convicted on 21 counts of murder in the bloody coup that removed former Prime Minister Maurice Bishop from power.

According to her, the soldier, Joseph Layne, was barred from practising law by a body similar to the GLC and he took his case to the appellate court.

"The [appeal] court held that it was not because of the conviction [why he was not allowed to practise law], because the conviction cannot be a bar. There has to be other things in terms of character," she reasoned.

Cummings argued, too, that the Legal Profession Act speaks only to good character for persons seeking to become attorneys.

"It does not disqualify you by virtue of a conviction," she said.

"We must allow persons to be rehabilitated," Cummings insisted.

livern.barrett@gleanerjm.com