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Fiji puts lawyers on trial

The Independent Legal Services Commission in Fiji has caused a tsunami of surprises pronouncing guilty verdicts on senior members of the legal fraternity.

Former Fiji Law Society President Dr Shamsud-Dean Sahu Khan and lawyer Vipul Mishra were found guilty of professional misconduct, while Mehboob Reza, another lawyer, was found guilty of unsatisfactory professional misconduct.

Dr Khan has been disbarred from practicing law for his role in executing a deed of indemnity, which he failed to honour.

In the past, the Fiji Law Society dealt with complaints against its members.

It was a professional body in name but a social organisation in practice.

It allowed, through its incompetence and lack of professional integrity, members to practice without any fear of being held accountable.

The Fiji Law Society virtually spawned a profession that had gradually lost its integrity, respect and dignity.

According to reports, Dr Khan may face the Commission again for professional misconduct and unsatisfactory misconduct charges.

Richard Naidu, a prominent member of the Fiji legal fraternity noted a few years ago that 80 substantial complaints were made to the Fiji Law Society against its members and that only two were dealt in time.

He said the inability of the Society to deal with complaints and discipline its members questioned the standing of the profession.

According to him, historically, the Fiji Law Society gave priority to protecting members instead of protecting the people from bad lawyers.

These people have no other recourse since the cost of seeking judicial redress is prohibitive and hence do not exercise that option and suffer continuous exploitation. Conscionable lawyers are on the decline and when senior practitioners engage in unsavoury practices, those who grow under their shadows may not be paragons of virtue and rectitude.

Unprofessional conduct

It is sad that a profession that is expected to seek justice for its clients is itself being unjust in dispensing its services.

Prime Minister Commodore Frank Bainimarama had made a scathing attack on the legal profession, accusing them of judge shopping, being amoral, crooked and condoning corruption.

He said that no large-scale fraud or corruption could succeed without a group of obliging, amoral and ambitious lawyers, ready to launder money in overseas bank accounts, evade taxes, set up companies with dubious motives and confuse the court system.

Other things have also gone wrong with the profession. The increase in cost of seeking the services of the legal profession is not because the quality of service has improved but because of greed. For the poor in Fiji, seeking justice through lawyers is now beyond their means.

Many tales of exploitation are circulated and discussed around the country but no one has the courage to stand up and face the people who have brought pain and suffering and even destruction to many families.

Abuse of funds

Abuse of trust funds and the court system to prolong simple cases to rob clients is a common practice. Thousands of families engage in lengthy estate battles and the lawyers keep these cases tangled and dip into the estate funds periodically while the estate beneficiaries struggle to make ends meet.

Due to the machinations of the lawyers, the courts are clogged with cases not because the courts cannot handle them but because of the lawyers who slow the heels of the justice system and continue billing their clients every time they make appearance.

The poor in Fiji had no champions to stand up to a profession that has become not only crooked but also cruel.

From being a caring, considerate and compassionate profession, it is now being viewed as heartless and ruthless. However, indications are that the days of wayward members of the legal profession in Fiji are numbered.

The removal of the right of the Fiji Law Society to self-regulate the profession was long overdue. The appointment of the Independent Legal Services Commission was one of the best decisions made by the Government.

Headed by judge, it is delivering results that show Fiji Law Society was incompetent, prejudiced and fraudulent in dispensing its responsibilities.

Rajendra Prasad is our columnist and author of Tears in Paradise.

Email: raj.prasad@xtra.co.nz


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