The BVI's new Legal Profession Act: What English QCs need to know

In late 2015, after nearly a decade of consultation and back-and-forth, the BVI passed into law a new Legal Profession Act (LPA) regulating inter alia admissions and practice. However, it quickly became apparent that much of the subsidiary legislation and administrative mechanics required were not in place, and so the LPA simply could not function as drafted.

Accordingly, an amendment was rushed through in early 2016 to effectively suspend parts of the LPA until those deficiencies could be remedied.

One of the groups that got particularly tangled up was English QCs instructed to appear in the BVI for large cases. The new transitional provisions largely resolve most of the issues which had arisen, and their broad effect can be
summarised as follows:

  • For counsel who are already admitted in BVI, if they intend to appear in the BVI during 2016 or January 2017 they should register with the High Court Registrar under the transitional provisions to obviate the practising certificate requirement; and
  • For counsel who are not admitted in BVI, but anticipate they may need to appear in the BVI courts, it would seem prudent to get admitted sooner rather than later whilst the more relaxed transitional provisions are in effect.
  • For English barristers who are already admitted in BVI, their admissions remain valid, although once the LPA is brought fully into force, they will need a temporary practising certificate to appear in the BVI courts. This can be circumvented in the period leading up to 31 January 2017 by registering with the Registrar, providing some basic information, and paying a fee. However, from February 2017 onwards all visiting QCs and practitioners with at least 10 years’ experience will be required to obtain a temporary practising certificate to appear in the BVI courts.
  • For English barristers who have not yet been admitted in BVI, the effect of the transitional provisions is that the “old” admission rules in BVI have been temporarily reinstituted. It is not yet clear how long the transitional provisions will apply but for the time being the status quo remains in place with the exception of registration and the payment of a US$1500 fee.

Once  the new regulations are brought into force, any foreign barrister who is not already admitted will need to make an application for temporary admission in order to appear, and they will need to show “special qualifications or experience” relevant to the case. That application will be subject to scrutiny by the General Legal Council who will have a right to express a view on the suitability of the applicant for admission. Whilst this will add an additional tier to the admission procedure, we expect that the process will be treated in accordance with the commercial urgency common to many applications where members of the English Bar are instructed.

From February 2017, counsel who are already admitted (even those that have registered) will be required to obtain temporary practising certificates to appear.
For further information on how to register under the transitional provisions or to be called to the BVI Bar, please contact Phillip Kite, Andrew Thorp or your usual Harneys litigation contact.