By Mudliyar

The limited liability tout firms
Chairman Mao introduced barefoot doctors to China. Millions perished from wrong diagnosis. Felix Dias tested the fidelities of the legal profession. His candidate lost the Bar elections. An angry Felix tried to introduce barefoot lawyers.

As the first step towards achieving this, he chaired a meeting of Lawyers' Clerks in his capacity as the Minister of Justice.

The congregation of lawyers' clerks stated their virtues and said the legal profession would be less efficient, in fact, incompetent, if they were barred from entering Court.

They moved that they be permitted to appear in court as barefoot lawyers which would render the legal services less burdensome to the public at large. The Minister of Justice would be hailed as the greatest champion of the litigants. They said, and Felix agreed.

As a temporary reprieve the clerks were issued identity cards permitting them to enter a courthouse without being hauled before the Magistrate and charged under the Intermeddlers Ordinance for touting.

They elected an Executive Committee of the members. Its president had an office in Hulftsdorp.

He employed a few junior lawyers. His institution was well known.

He advertised the availability of cheap legal and notarial services, and free advice on all maintenance matters. At that time The Legal Aid Commission did not have sufficient funds to pay even the salaries of its own staff.

But this gentleman as a matter of principle did not charge fees from the applicants. Later it was said that his alliance with his women clients were highly questionable.

This matter was brought to the notice of the Bar Council. Only then did the legal profession realise that there were no rules governing professional etiquette.

W.P. Gunathilake, the Secretary of the Bar Association in 1983 was one of those who realized the grave dangers the profession would face if there were no rules framed to discipline the members of the profession.

He appointed a committee known as a Professional Affairs Committee with J. W Subasinghe PC as its chairman. J.K. Liyanasuriya, Jed Gunaratne, D.P. Mendis and Hemantha Warnakulasuriya (Convener) were its other members.

This Special Committee was responsible for drafting the Rules of Conduct and Etiquette for Attorneys-at-Law which were finally gazetted in 1989.

By this time, the gentlemen clerk was a formidable force at Hulftsdorp. A number of lawyers benefited from this glorified touting service.

In 1989, this person disappeared never to return to his office. Some say he disappeared for his alleged involvement with the opposition at that time.

Others say that one of the husbands of his maintenance clients who was an Army Officer used the prevalent situation to get rid of him. The lawyers found that they could not practice their profession without their 'boss'. They left Colombo and went back to their villages.

Today a similar situation has arisen. Instead of petty touts trying to form consultancy services and give them free legal advice initially and then squeeze the client for a fat fee by going to Court, various firms are trying to establish legal consultancy services to provide legal advice to corporate clients.

These mushroom organizations will provide the services of accountancy and auditing together with legal advice on any problem including the drawing up of a Memorandum and Articles of Association, to set up a BOI company, and obtain the approval of the BOI and get all the duty concessions. The entrepreneur is instructed to shop at one place.

It is a new concept. A concept of a limited liability company.

The limited liability company is not bound by any rules of any Court. They are a law unto themselves. They are only bound by the Memorandum and Articles of Association and only answerable to the shareholders of the company.

As they are not bound by the Rules of the Supreme Court they will be in a position to advertise, sell and market their legal services to the world. Whereas other law firms will be bound by the Rules of the Supreme Court.

Even in developed countries the principle is that an attorney should not employ non-lawyers in the practice of the law.

We are informed that in spite of the Rules of the Supreme Court which prohibits lawyers from providing legal services to any kind of person other than his employer and prohibits a lawyer from entering in to a partnership with a non-lawyer to provide legal services, some organizations have done so by employing young attorneys to provide consultancy services to outsiders for a fee. This is totally illegal.

The Attorney-at-Law could be reported by any person for having violated the rules of the Supreme Court. If the Supreme Court issues a Rule against such an attorney a limited liability company will not be able to defend the poor attorney who has got into serious difficulty by violating the Rules for Conduct and Etiquette for Lawyers.

What would happen to the directors of the limited liability company who employ the attorneys and provide legal services to outsiders. There is still in the Statute Book the Intermeddlers Ordinance which is also known among the clerks as the Anti-Tout Law.

If a gentleman after having obtained the services from a limited liability company files a private plaint in the Magistrate Court under the Intermeddlers Ordinance and charges the directors of these organization as intermeddlers or known in common parlance as touts they will have to personally get into the dock and answer the charges.

It will be a hilarious and comical scene where directors of a large commercial firm get into the dock in a Magistrate Court for touting.

Aritha Wickramanayake and Chanaka De Silva realized the dangers these limited liability companies would pose on unsuspecting clients.

For instance the company without any pain of punishment would breach the confidentiality and would not be disciplined by the Supreme Court.

These gentlemen met at the chambers of a senior counsel to decide whether to fight this menace alone or do the same with the Bar Association. Senior counsel said that he along with the other silent majority would try to obtain the approval of the council.

Champaka Ladduwahetty cautioned the Bar of the dangers the profession was facing when persons trained in other disciplines were trying to take the legal profession into their fold and snuff them out of existence. The Bar unanimously decided to take action forthwith.

They announced that H.L. de Silva P.C., the virtual leader of the Bar had agreed to appear for the Bar Association if he was provided with all the material and he was satisfied that sufficient grounds existed to petition the Supreme Court.

Chief Justice Miller observed in Regina Vs. Woods that when a man says in effect, "I am not a lawyer but I do the work of a lawyer for you, he is offering his services as a lawyer.

In offering his services as a lawyer he is holding himself out as a lawyer even though he makes it clear he is not a properly qualified lawyer".

Ranjith Wijesinghe was thrown out of the police station by the OIC when he appeared for his clients. The OIC pointed a revolver and threatened to shoot him. He complained to the police headquarters and all the other agencies and to the BASL.

This column exposed the predicament the legal profession has fallen into. Soon afterwards he was transferred out. We received this letter from Mr. Wijesinghe:

"Thank you for the exposure you made in your columns.

I went from pillar to post even writing to the Bar Association without avail. But after your article, the Police officer concerned was transferred."

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