Advocates up in arms over Bill that will create ‘lawyer without warrant’

Critics suspect the Bill allows law graduates without a warrant to provide legal services outside court litigation, particularly to favour government employees and ministerial appointees

Malta’s lawyers are up in arms over a government Bill that could create two categories of legal professionals, one of them lacking the necessary warrant in to practice in the courts of law but still guaranteed legal recognition. 

Over 200 members of the profession were convened by Chamber of Advocates president Louis de Gabriele to express their dismay at Bill 217, which seeks to restrict the warrant of advocates exclusively for court-related work, to allow anyone with some academic qualification in law, as prescribed by the minister, to provide legal services.   

Critics suspect the Bill allows law graduates without a warrant to provide legal services outside court litigation, particularly to favour government employees and ministerial appointees. 

“An advocate’s warrant is not there to protect us as advocates, but rather to protect the public from persons who falsely hold themselves out and giving the impression that they are advocates, without having satisfied the necessary prerequisites to be awarded a warrant,” De Gabriele said. 

“The warrant is the assurance which the State itself gives to the public that it can safely put trust and confidence in an advocate, not only as a person who has reached the minimum levels of competence to be able to dispense legal advice to them, but also because that person in becoming a warranted advocate has shown that he/she is of good conduct and repute; has shown that he/she is fit and proper to be admitted to the profession; has undertaken at least one year of practice in the law; is governed by a set of ethical principles and is subject to disciplinary proceedings and may, if he breaches that code, be subject to losing the warrant which authorises him/her to practice law.” 

The Chamber has called for the raising of the bar for the profession with a regulatory framework that guarantees its independence and more rigorous standards within the profession for the past 12 years. 

“It is indeed surreal that in 2021 the profession is now faced with a Bill that is proposing the removal of the requirement of a warrant for most of the legal services covered by such warrant,” the Chamber president said. 

“What is baffling in the whole situation is that only a month or so ago Parliament enacted a law that made certain changes to the code of organization and civil procedure. The same proponents of that law, are now, just days after the enactment thereof, proposing through Bill 217 to completely abrogate those provisions.” 

One such provision was the statutory recognition of the Chamber of Advocates in article 84B of the Code, now no longer included in the Bill. 

At the Chamber’s meeting, members asked what was motivating the changes to the Bill and its urgency. “Unfortunately, these were the questions that the Chamber’s Council had already sought clarification on, but so far none of them have been answered and therefore one could only speculate as to why the changes, and more, why the urgency,” De Gabriele said. 

The Chamber said the Bill had been moved without any consultation, despite appeals to the minister to suspend the debate. De Gabriele said the Chamber remains open to negotiation and discussion. 

“We’re determined to leave no stone unturned in our commitment to have a law which respects the dignity of the profession and protects the public interest,” De Gabriele said. 

“We're exploring the most effective measures in response, if the government remains intent on proceeding with the law in its current state, without further discussion with the Chamber.”