With a legal system based on English common law, the Virgin Islands (‘BVI’) is a highly regarded offshore jurisdiction with a proven track record in dispute resolution.
Traditionally, the jurisdiction has attracted both solicitors and barristers eligible to be admitted to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (Virgin Islands Division), by satisfying the criteria of either having completed a legal education within the Caribbean or being admitted as a solicitor or barrister in the United Kingdom and being in current good standing.
However, over the past decade, commensurate with the growth of BVI legal services, these admission criteria have led to an influx of foreign lawyers being admitted but not remaining in the BVI to practise BVI law yet holding themselves out as BVI qualified. As a result, attempts to protect the practise of BVI law and at the same time to regulate the BVI legal profession have been threatened for the last five or so years, finally culminating in the passing of the new Legal Profession Act 2015 (‘LPA’) which is expected to come into force in 2016. Key aspects of the new Act include:
- The fusion of the BVI legal profession. Those practising BVI law will be known as BVI legal practitioners only, rather than solicitors and barristers. In consequence all BVI legal practitioners will have rights of audience in all BVI courts, including in the Court of Appeal.
- The creation of a General Legal Council to regulate and supervise the legal profession to internationally accepted standards. The Council will be responsible for the issue of practising certificates to legal practitioners (itself a new requirement) and may appear at the admission hearing of new legal practitioners.
- Legal practitioners admitted in the BVI prior to the coming into force of the LPA will be entered on the Roll and be eligible to apply for a practising certificate.
- A requirement in order to be admitted after the coming into force of the LPA and to obtain the issue of a practising certificate will be imposed, of being a Belonger or a resident, or practising at a law firm with an affiliated office in the BVI, in addition to a qualification for a minimum period from a recognised jurisdiction.
- Queens Counsel, with 15 years’ standing and requisite expertise, will also be eligible for admission in the BVI, if not already so admitted, and for the issue to them of a practising certificate in order to appear on an ad hoc basis, for the duration of a particular case or matter, with the consent of the Council.
- Distinct casualties of the LPA will be junior barristers from outside the BVI, who will no longer be eligible to be admitted in the BVI and/or to be issued with a BVI practising certificate.
The Act aims to both protect and regulate the legal profession in the BVI and to ensure that BVI lawyers continue to provide a high quality of work, thereby enhancing the BVI’s reputation as a premier offshore jurisdiction.