Lawyers association says Intelligence Agency Bill will violate lawyer-client confidentiality

Last Updated on Friday, 28 April 2023, 17:55 by Denis Chabrol

The Guyana Bar Association (GBA) on Friday expressed grave concern that the draft National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) legislation would insulate that body and its agents from legal action if they access information that clients provide to their lawyers.

GBA President Pauline Chase told the opening of a Law Week 2023 symposium that lawyers must be prepared to resist the passage of that Bill as it provides for the exemption from suit “breaches confidentiality arising from legal professional privilege.”

“Legal Professional Privilege, the ability of our clients to freely share information with us for their fair representation, is the bedrock of our profession and by extension the administration of justice. We therefore as a collective, must in preparing for the future, find a way to somehow address this,” she said at the symposium which was attended by, among others, Justice Winston Anderson of the Caribbean Court of Justice and Guyana’s Attorney General Anil Nandlall.

Section 41 of the NISA Bill states that “No civil or criminal action, suit or other proceedings for breach of confidentiality (including confidentiality arising from legal professional privilege) may be brought, nor any professional sanction for such breach may be taken, against any person, who in good faith (under this Act or any other law) provides or transmits information requested by the Agency or submits a report to the Agency.

Referring to the GBA’s concerns, Attorney General Nandlall  advised that body to pay attention to the recent ruling by the Privy Council, the apex court for several other Caribbean countries and territories, concerning lawyer-client privilege and new laws to fight transnational crimes such as Anti-Money Laundering and the Countering of Financing of Terrorism (AMLCFT). “There is a recent ruling from the Privy Council from a case filed by the Jamaica Bar Association on that very issue, the apparent conflict which exists between the legal confidential duty of a lawyer to his or her client and the contradictory or the apparent contradictory obligation that the legal profession owes under different recently enacted statutes in particular the AMLCFT regime. So that ruling ought to provide some guidance on that matter,” he said.

The NISA Bill, if passed into law, will also empower that agency to access information from any public body regardless of any other law.

Also, the agency will be given legal teeth to deploy agents to Guyana’s diplomatic missions overseas.