Legal code gets modern update

2009 Revised Edition of the Laws of the Turks and Caicos Islands are available at $3,000.00 for the 11 Volume set and CD-ROM. Individual booklets are available for $75.00, $50.00 and $10.00 each, depending on size.

 

Like many institutions in the Turks and Caicos Islands, the legal system is a local variation on a theme that looks instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the British original and its various colonial interpretations.

There are 113 lawyers in the Turks and Caicos Bar Association

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The legal headlines in the years after the 2008 government crisis have been about reform and modernization. The Commission of Inquiry found multiple deficiencies within the nation’s laws, and over the past two years the TCI Attorney General has consulted with stakeholders locally and worked with experts from the United Kingdom’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the European Union to draft an ambitious program of new ordinances.

Once complete, this comprehensive review and overhaul of the nation’s laws will give local government a modern legal code that meets the needs of a growing population and an expanding economy, while adhering to international standards and best practices. That will be a leap forward for the legal system, according to George Missick, managing partner at the firm of Karam & Missick and the president of the Turks and Caicos Bar Association. Because the Turks and Caicos remains a small, developing jurisdiction, much of its necessary legislation was either archaic or nonexistent, Missick said. Updating all of it together, while organizing the nation’s common law records into a searchable digital format, is expected to return ongoing benefits.

There are 38 firms practicing in the islands.

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Beneath that new layer of modernization, however, the underlying structure of the Turks and Caicos judiciary endures. There is a lower court (the Magistrates Court), which handles minor criminal charges and civil suits with damages below $10,000. Decisions of the Magistrates Court may be appealed to a higher court (The Supreme Court), which also handles more serious criminal charges and larger civil suits. And of particular interest to many businesses, there is also a Labour Tribunal.

Labour issues covered under the Employment Ordinance are typically referred to mediation by the Labour Department, and only cases that cannot be resolved at that level are referred to the tribunal. Its decisions, like those from other first-instance courts of law, may be referred to or reviewed by the nation’s Court of Appeals, which consists of a president and at least two justices of appeal.

The Supreme Court hears an average of 250 cases per year.

The Supreme Court is led by a Chief Justice, and convenes on both Providenciales and Grand Turk. But unlike in the United States, where the Supreme Court is the Court of last appeal, Supreme Court verdicts in Turks and Caicos may be appealed through the Court of Appeals on to the United Kingdom’s Privy Council. The Privy Council in England is the nation’s final appellate court. Most appeals take several months to reach the Privy Council, but appeals are typically resolved in less than a year.

Though there are few judges in the country, the judiciary always keeps one on call so that urgent matters, such as injunctions, can be dealt with rapidly. And, because the docket is small (the Supreme Court hears about 350 cases a year), justice is swift. “I must say, cases move quite quickly through the court system here,” Missick said.

The Appeals Court meets three times per year.

One difference between the Turks and Caicos system and the English system from which it draws most of its tradition, is that practicing law is a fused profession here, as within the United States’ legal system. That means that any lawyer in the TCI, whether called to the Bar as a barrister or a solicitor, may practice all forms of law within their competency. The nation’s Bar numbers between 100 and 150 lawyers, representing the nearly 40 law firms that comprise the Bar Association. Most lawyers practicing in the TCI were trained in the UK or Canada.

Lawyers seeking to practice in the TCI must have a law degree, and foreign attorneys must have at least five years of experience practicing law in another Commonwealth jurisdiction. As a result, most of the members of the Turks and Caicos Bar are senior attorneys, and few have less than 10 years of experience, Missick said. Applications to practice in the TCI are made to the Chief Justice, who consults with the Bar Association prior to any admission.

Most attorneys charge on an hourly basis, with rates that range from $200 to $550 an hour. For legal services related to commercial or real estate transactions, the standard fee is based on 1 percent of the transaction’s value. Some attorneys may charge a flat fee for smaller cases and actions.

Legal remedies in the TCI (including injunctions, garnishment, charges on property to secure payment and examination of debtors) are generally similar to what can be found elsewhere. Overseas judgments can be recognized here, although they are not directly enforceable.

“We have all the remedies that persons in larger jurisdictions would use to protect their rights,” Missick said. “Investors can feel confident they will get a fair decision at the end of the day.”