Bill regulating legal profession will establish lawyers register while addressing Moneyval concerns

The bill is set to be the first piece of legislation regulating the profession 

A bill regulating the legal profession entered into its second parliamentary reading on Tuesday, with the legislation looking to introduce a register of legal professionals while addressing Moneyval inefficiencies.

Among the amendments in the establishment of a register containing information on all advocates and legal procurators holding a warrant. The register will be made available to the public free of charge.

The Chamber of Advocates have long been pushing for a lawyers register, but was displeased with the bill when it was first published in December 2020. The Chamber said that the bill was a significant departure from the draft presented to them, and that its only aim is to achieve the minimum requirements set out in the Moneyval report.

In today’s hearing, Justice Minister Zammit Lewis praised the bill for tackling money-laundering risks faced by legal professionals. “We’re not saying that lawyers are high-risk individuals, but that the legal profession itself is high-risk, as lawyers regularly deal with clients, offer and advice, and receive money.”

Zammit Lewis emphasised that good governance is something that must be practiced among professionals as well as government. “Our professions need to work ethically. A part of the Moneyval assessment has to do with self-governance among these professionals.”

However, he pointed out that Moneyval is not the only motive behind this bill. “Moneyval gave us a push to make certain changes, but ultimately it’s a test of how we work as a country, not just as a government.”

He reaffirmed that government is doing everything to make sure that Malta passes its Moneyval assessment and in turn strengthen the country’s reputation abroad.

The bill, which amends the Code of Organisation and Civil Procedure, introduces the idea of a “fit and proper person” within the legal profession. Practitioners found to be in breach of the code of ethics and conduct will be subject either to a financial penalty not exceeding €25,000, or a period of imprisonment of not more than one year.

Further reform is put forward concerning the Committee for Advocates and Legal Procurators. The chairperson of the committee will be appointed by the Commission for the Administration of Justice from amongst retired judges, while a senior official from the Ministry responsible of justice will enjoy a seat on the committee. An advocate each will be appointed by the Attorney General and State Advocate, while another three lawyers will be directly appointed by the Chamber of Advocates.

Zammit Lewis said that this committee will n ot be subject to political direction, as no members will be appointed directly by government. However, Opposition MP Karol Aquilina argued that government will still wield some control over the committee. He pointed out that the Attorney General is chosen by government, as is the Chief Justice of Malta who holds the deputy chairmanship of the justice commission.