International

Doing legal business in the Commonwealth Caribbean

The Caribbean is a region of the Americas that encompasses the Caribbean Sea, its surrounding coasts and the islands located between North and South America. It’s comprised of 16 countries and 24 dependencies and has a population of around 43 million.

The Commonwealth Caribbean is made up of the English-speaking Caribbean countries that share a history of having been administered by, and gained political independence from, Great Britain.

The region is made up of both British Overseas Territories and independent states.

The legal systems of the English-speaking Caribbean islands are essentially derived from English common law, with certain modifications made by local legislation in recent decades.

Practising in the Commonwealth Caribbean

There is no ‘foreign legal consultant’ status in the Commonwealth Caribbean.

However, attorneys may act as paralegals if they are not qualified in the respective jurisdiction.

Since many of the Caribbean islands have their own constitutions and case law, lawyers would need to be called to their local bar.

There are no temporary practice or ‘fly-in fly-out’ provisions in the jurisdictions of the Commonwealth Caribbean. However, there are provisions in each Legal Profession Act (LPA) for temporary licences.

It's not uncommon for English QCs to take on Caribbean cases (such as death row appeals), many of which are heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in London.

Solicitors of England and Wales can practise local law (as solicitors) in some Caribbean jurisdictions such as St Lucia and the British Virgin Islands.

However, this depends on admittance to the local bar and after at least five years of practice in the UK (in the absence of a valid Legal Education Certificate).

For further information, contact the relevant local bar.

Subject to the relevant provisions in each island’s Legal Profession Act, solicitors can enter into partnerships and employ local lawyers.

Local lawyers are also able to employ solicitors.

The legal profession

The legal profession in the Caribbean is generally ‘fused’, with no distinction between solicitor and barrister except in select Caribbean states that allow for admission as a solicitor only.

In practice, there is limited oversight or regulation affecting the legal profession across the Commonwealth Caribbean.

Most of the Caribbean islands either have – or are in the process of adopting – a Legal Profession Act that governs, among other things, the admission of lawyers.

Continuing legal professional development, running of the bar councils and discipline/ethics among practitioners are also covered by the act.

Regulation and representation

Each jurisdiction has its own national bar association to represent the profession and, in some cases, perform a regulatory role.

Admission to the bar, complaints, discipline and continuing legal education are determined at a national level by the bar association or government body.

There are two regional bar associations covering jurisdictions based on English common law.

The Organization of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations (OCCBA) covers:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • the Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Bermuda
  • Belize
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Montserrat
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • Dominica
  • the Cayman Islands

The Organization of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) Bar Association covers:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Montserrat
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • the British Virgin Islands

The legal system and courts

English common law forms the basis of legal systems in:

  • Anguilla
  • Antigua and Barbuda
  • Bahamas
  • Barbados
  • Belize
  • British Virgin Islands
  • Dominica
  • Grenada
  • Guyana
  • Jamaica
  • Montserrat
  • St Kitts and Nevis
  • St Lucia
  • St Vincent and the Grenadines
  • Trinidad and Tobago
  • the Turks and Caicos Islands

Some Caribbean jurisdictions use civil law based on French, Dutch and Spanish codes.

The Privy Council of the United Kingdom remains the final court of appeal in many cases, though some Commonwealth Caribbean states have moved to recognise the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) instead. This includes Barbados, Belize, Guyana and Dominica.

The CCJ acts as the court of original jurisdiction for the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) disputes.

The court system mostly continues to reflect English practice and heritage, with familiar customs and modes of address for a hierarchy of courts modelled on English antecedents and largely similar procedural rules for criminal and civil practice.

Legal concepts in the Caribbean can sometimes differ from English practice in that each island has a written constitution that is treated as supreme.

Jurisprudence from the European Union is also persuasive in the Caribbean, especially since the fundamental rights and obligations enshrined within the various constitutions is usually based on, and in most cases identical to, the European Convention on Human Rights, which was enshrined in the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998.

How to qualify as a lawyer

Professional legal training in the Caribbean is coordinated by the Council of Legal Education, established by the Treaty of Chaguaramas.

This treaty, signed on 4 July 1973 in Chaguaramas, Trinidad and Tobago, also established the Caribbean Community and Common Market, later known as CARICOM.

The council has the following institutions located in three countries within the region:

  • Norman Manley Law School, Jamaica
  • Eugene Dupuch Law School, the Bahamas
  • Hugh Wooding Law School, Trinidad

Each institution runs both a six-month and two-year programme for its students.

On successful completion of the programme, students are awarded a Legal Education Certificate (LEC).

The topics covered on the six-month course are traditionally those covered by the LLB undergraduate programme and the Legal Practice Course (LPC):

  • civil and criminal legal practice
  • constitutional law
  • laws and legal systems
  • accounting and law of office management

After this, you’re required to complete 10 weeks of in-service training at a local law firm, as well as court report observations.

Those starting the two-year course will encounter a more intense period of study covering conveyancing, probate, family law and advocacy.

Admission to practise is restricted to holders of the LEC. Obtaining the LEC entitles the holder the admission to practise across the wider Caribbean, not just in any single jurisdiction.

Across the English-speaking Caribbean, lawyers are generally called ‘attorneys at law’.

Qualifying as a foreign lawyer in the Caribbean

If you are a solicitor qualified in England and Wales, you should take the six-month course.

Students on the course are required to reside and study within the jurisdiction for the whole six-month period, although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced institutions to deliver the course virtually.

Since the course is designed for those professionally trained in the common law system, it’s also possible to enrol on the course if you are called to the Bar of England and Wales with pupillage not being a necessary requirement.

On successfully completing the programme, students are awarded a Legal Education Certificate (LEC).

Following five years of practise in a common law jurisdiction, it’s possible to become admitted to islands such as:

  • British Virgin Islands, and St Vincent and the Grenadines (as solicitors only)
  • St Lucia (as an attorney at law with full rights of audience)
  • Grenada (as an attorney)

The usual process to apply for admission is by way of a fixed-date claim form, swearing an affidavit on oath to confirm your identity and qualifications and receive a supporting affidavit from a local attorney. This is followed by a hearing of your application to be admitted.

Requalification in England and Wales

The Solicitors Qualifying Examination (SQE) replaced the Qualified Lawyers Transfer Scheme (QLTS) in September 2021.

The SQE is open to candidates from any jurisdiction.

The Solicitors Regulation Authority will not require you to complete any preparatory courses before sitting the SQE nor to have any specific university degree.

Resources

Regional organisations

CARICOM

OCCBA

OECS

National organisations

Anguilla

Antigua – no national organisation

The Bahamas

Barbados

Bermuda

Belize

British Virgin Islands

Grenada – no national organisation

Guyana

Jamaica

Montserrat

St Kitts and Nevis

St Lucia

St Vincent and the Grenadines

Trinidad and Tobago

Dominica – no website

The Cayman Islands

Turks and Caicos

Social media

Twitter: @LSInternational

LinkedIn: Law Society International Division

Acknowledgement and thanks

This document has been compiled with the help of Simone Bowman of Bow Law Barristers Chambers and Darren J Sylvester of DJS Law Solicitors.

Our special thanks to them for their generous assistance.

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