2005 – The Mauritius Law Society Act

On the 16th December 2005 the Mauritius Law Society Act (No. 33 of 2005) was voted at the National Assembly. This Act came into force on the 1st February 2006. The main object of the Act is to establish a legislation which regulates the profession of attorneys and uphold the integrity and independence of its members. The Act also provides for the Society to be managed by a Council which shall consist of a State Attorney designated by the Solicitor-General and seven other members elected at a General Meeting of the Society. The Act further provides for the establishment and publication of a Code of Ethics for Attorneys by the Council and for the setting up of a Register of Attorneys and for the payment of a membership fee. The powers the Council of the Law Society granted by the Act include disciplinary powers. For the first time, members of the profession have been afforded the possibility to take disciplinary sanction against one of their “confrères”. Amongst its objects the Act provides inter alia that:“In pursuance of its objects, the Society may consider all matters generally concerning the profession of attorney and take such measures as it thinks fit in relation thereto and, in particular, ... (h) any action to be taken against an attorney for a breach of the Code”. In that connection, section 17 of the Act grants the power to the Council to investigate any report made to it regarding an alleged breach of the Code by an attorney (other than an “exempt member” which includes State Attorneys) and to, determine that the attorney shall be reprimanded or severely reprimanded. Power is also granted to the Council to hear any attorney who is the subject of such a report and where “ it appears to the Council, after such preliminary investigation as it thinks fit, that there is a prima facie case of a serious breach of the Code by an attorney, it shall refer the matter to the Supreme Court for determination under section 18 of the Courts Act.” Section 17 of the Act further provides that the Council may determine that a member who has been sanctioned: “shall be suspended from membership for a period of not more than 3 months, during which he shall not be entitled to practice.” In such an event the attorney may, by written notice addressed to the Secretary, within 21 days, appeal against the decision “at a Special General Meeting of the Society to be convened for that purpose by the Secretary within 21 days” and any party aggrieved by a decision may appeal to the Supreme Court by way of judicial review. Furthermore, power is granted to the Council to remove from the Register the name of an attorney in certain circumstances including “where it is required to do so by the Supreme Court”. Where the name of an attorney (other than an exempt member) is removed from the Register by the Council, the Council ensures that all files and documents in that attorneys possession, other than personal papers, are transferred to another attorney approved by the Council and may, for such purposes “request assistance from an usher or a police officer”. The Council may also temporarily remove the name of an attorney (other than an exempt member) from the Register where the attorney is charged with a serious offence involving fraud or dishonesty before a court of law, or, is subject to an investigation for a serious breach of the Code, or, has failed to pay the annual subscription fee in arrears. However, prior to exercising such a discretion the Council has the obligation to give an opportunity to the attorney to make representations as to why his name should not be temporarily removed from the Register. The Council, on good cause shown, may reinstate the name of an attorney, whose name has been removed by the Council, in the Register. Another important provision of the Act is section 15 which provides that: “Notwithstanding the Income Tax Act, a member shall be entitled to deduct from the tax payable by him in respect of an assessment year the amount of any donation made by him to the Society in the previous income year”. With the coming into force of the Mauritius Law Society Act and upon the constitution of the first Council, the then existing Law Society transferred all its documents, records and assets to the newly constituted Council and all the attorneys whose names are on the Roll on the coming into operation of the Act “shall be deemed to be in the Register of Attorneys”. The Code of Ethics for Attorneys which was introduced in the Act, had been the subject of discussions for many years by the profession. In May 1996 Mr. Richard Lambourne member of the English Law Society helped for the drawing of a code and a diner was organized at Villa Caroline on this occasion. Below are some photos taken on the occasion of the visit of Mr. Richard Lambourne for the drafting of the code of ethics: