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The Bar Council of the Bahamas is set to apply for a judicial review on a government attempt to carry out an audit of all law firms on the island as a precaution against money laundering.
The Bahamas is believed to be the only state in the world where all professions relating to finance are subject to this sort of annual audit. This is a result of the island's uptake of the Financial Transaction Re-porting Act (FTRA) last December. Dr Peter Maynard, president of the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations and chair of the Bar Council of the Bahamas, said that the case may go as far as the Privy Council - the final court of appeal for the islanders - if it fails before the appeal court. Last Monday (29 October), the island's Bar Association unanimously voted in favour of the judicial review, in an effort to stop the audit by the island's Financial Investiga-tion Unit, due to start on 1 November. This follows the adoption on 25 May of the Nassau Declaration on Financial Services, objecting to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development's (OECD) all-eged attacks on countries with financial centres. Maynard said the audit did not start on that date and he was returning early to the island from the IBA Conference in order to pursue the matter before the courts. The government adopted the FTRA after OECD lobbying. Those affected by it include lawyers, accountants, lenders and borrowers, trustees, real estate brokers, cooperative societies and friendly societies. The 616 lawyers on the island are responsible for paying for the audit. The audit will focus on investigating lawyers' recording of clients' names, passport details, addresses, funds sources, and whether they have reported suspicious transactions. They also have powers to issue search warrants. Maynard said that the Bahamas is one of the world's leaders in compliance, and has a strict reporting regime by professionals suspecting clients of laundering the proceeds of crime. "It is a very hard line," he said. "We're one of 35 countries blacklisted by the FATF [Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering], but the island has been extremely compliant in order to retain the financial sector as a viable sector. The Bar Council could be relied on to ensure record keeping is done. Also, the OECD applies double standards, as its own members do not have annual compliance audits."