HOW TO COMPLAIN AGAINST AN ATTORNEY-AT- LAW
This website tells you briefly how to make a complaint against an Attorney-at-law. The Disciplinary Committee regulates all Attorneys, considers complaints about them and, where appropriate, can take action against them.
WHAT SHOULD I DO WHEN I HAVE A COMPLAINT?
Raise the matter at once with your Attorney, preferably in writing. Most minor problems can be resolved quickly if they are raised at the time. The longer you wait to raise your complaint, the more difficult it will be to investigate and to establish exactly what happened.
HOW DO I KNOW WHETHER I HAVE A COMPLAINT?
You may seek the advice of another Attorney-at-law to determine whether you have a valid complaint. Another Attorney-at-law would be useful to provide you with an impartial assessment of your Attorney's conduct. If you do not have such an opportunity you should contact the offices of the Disciplinary Committee, First Floor, Hall of Justice, Knox Street, Port of Spain (Tel: 625-7166). The Secretary of the Committee will show you a copy of the Code of Ethics, contained in the Legal Profession Act, 1986 which sets out in detail the duties and responsibilities of an Attorney-at-law.
THE DUTIES OF AN ATTORNEY AT LAW
Part A of the Third Schedule of the Legal Profession Act contains the Code of Ethics. Paragraphs 21-35 deal with the conduct of an Attorney in relation to clients. Part B of the Third Schedule also provides guidance for the conduct of Attorneys, in particular paragraph 10, which deals with whether fees are unfair or unreasonable. The Code of Ethics is available for inspection at the offices of the Disciplinary Committee. Copies of the Act are also available for sale. In general terms, when acting for you, an Attorney-at-law must:
HOW TO BEGIN DISCIPLINARY PROCEEDINGS
- Act competently and diligently.
- Deal with work within a reasonable time.
- At all times in entering into discussions or agreements with your opponents to do so only with your express consent and instructions.
- Keep your affairs completely confidential.
- Deal with you courteously.
- Give you legal advice to the best of his or her ability and act in your best interests.
- Charge you fees that are fair and reasonable and in accordance with the time expended and the complexity of your work.
- Act in good faith and conduct himself in a professional manner.
At the offices of the Disciplinary Committee you will be given two forms. Form 1 is the formal application to the Disciplinary Committee. Form 2 is an affidavit which must be sworn by you before a Justice of the Peace/Commissioner of Affidavits/Notary Public. The Secretary of the Committee will be available to answer any questions related to the forms. After the forms are correctly filled out and sworn you will file them with the Secretary of the Disciplinary Committee.
WHO MAY COMPLAIN
Every client has a right to complain. Where the Attorney has represented more than one person, each of those persons may jointly issue the complaint. Persons who are not clients may, with the leave of the Committee, also issue complaints. The key issue is whether the Attorney has committed an act of professional misconduct and if you were not a client, but nonetheless a person directly affected by the alleged professional misconduct, you may proceed to file the complaint. At the hearing, you will need to seek permission to proceed with the complaint.
COMPLETING THE FORMS CORRECTLY
You should take care in filling out the forms, especially Form 2, (the affidavit). In the affidavit you will be asked to state the grounds of your complaint. Choose your language carefully. It would be ideal if you consulted another Attorney-at-law for help in correctly filling out this form. The grounds of your complaint should contain an accurate statement of your specific complaint. Where possible, you should refer to the specific paragraph or paragraphs of the Code of Ethics of which you allege your Attorney to be in breach. Avoid irrelevant material and concentrate on exactly what your Attorney did or did not do that forms the basis of your complaint. It is important also to briefly state what financial or other losses you incurred as a result of the alleged professional misconduct.
PROCEEDINGS BEFORE THE HEARING
The Committee will first privately examine Forms 1 and 2 to determine whether you have a prima facie case against the Attorney. (This means a case which adequately makes out a complaint for professional misconduct). If necessary, the committee will request you to provide further or better particulars of your complaint. Before provision of sufficient particulars of your complaint, the Committee will decide whether the Attorney should be called upon to answer your complaint. If the Committee decides to call upon the Attorney to answer your complaint, the Secretary will notify you of a date of hearing at the Hall of Justice, Port of Spain. Occasionally, the Committee will sit in Tobago. The Attorney may answer your complaint in writing by filing an affidavit. A copy of the Attorney's affidavit will be mailed to you by the Secretary of the Committee. Please read the Attorney's affidavit carefully. If there are any new matters raised which you need to answer, or any documents that you wish to introduce to contradict the Attorney's affidavit, then you should also file an affidavit in reply. If you are in doubt, contact the Secretary of the Committee or seek legal advice.
PROCEEDINGS AT THE HEARING
It is preferable to have an Attorney represent you but if, for any reason, you do not have one, the Committee will explain your role and function, in every day language, and assist you to give your statement in support of the complaint. You should attend the hearing with all the documents relating to the complaint or your dealings with the Attorney. If you have any witnesses, you should also ask them to attend. The hearings are conducted like a trial, with each side entitled to ask questions of the other side, and to fully present their version of the events.
DECISION OF THE COMMITTEE
At the end of the hearing the committee will give a decision. If the Attorney has been found guilty of professional misconduct the committee has the power to:
OTHER CIVIL PROCEEDINGS
- Impose a fine in a sum that the committee thinks proper
- Order that the Attorney pay you a sum of money for compensation and reimbursement as well as any other expenses you may have incurred in pursuing your complaint, including your legal costs (if any), transport for witnesses etc.
- In serious cases, the committee can, in addition, refer its findings to the Chief Justice and the Attorney General and this may lead to the Attorney being deprived of his right to practice law
If an Attorney has, for example through negligence, caused you financial loss you will be entitled to bring civil proceedings in the Courts. In the event of a criminal act by the Attorney the remedies will be in accordance with the Committee. The High Court has far wider powers to grant you relief than the Disciplinary Committee. The High Court may not always be the forum in civil matters. If you have suffered serious loss as a result of professional misconduct it would be wise to seek legal advice about the remedies available to you in civil proceedings as soon as possible. The four-year limitation will not always apply. At any rate the object is not to give legal notice. It would be better simply to state that the client should seek legal advice as soon as possible or certain limitations to bringing court proceedings will apply.
This website is intended to provide a brief insight into the workings of the Disciplinary Committee. It is not intended to offer legal advice about any particular problem you may have experienced.
For further information :
Clerk to the Disciplinary Committee
Office of the Disciplinary Committee
c/o Secretary of the Disciplinary Committee
First Floor, Hall of Justice,
Knox Street, Port of Spain,
Trinidad, West Indies.
Tel/Fax: 625-7166; 623-7711 ext.2272
How to complain against an Attorney-at-Law
Code of Ethics