The Kiribati legal profession developed slowly from 1980 to 1997 and grew rapidly following the establishment of the University of the South Pacific (USP) School of Law. The legal profession in Kiribati may be described as a nascent or proto-profession. While it demonstrates some features of a profession, such as maintaining a monopoly over specialised knowledge and being governed by a system of qualification and licensing, it does not yet exhibit other features of professionalism, such as systems for self-education, effective self-regulation and social responsibility. The entry into force of the KLS Act in 2007 heralded a new era for regulation of lawyers in Kiribati, but progress towards developing strong professional and regulatory institutions has stagnated in recent years due to a range of endogenous and extraneous factors. Lawyers, judges and other stakeholders of the legal profession in Kiribati agree the current regulatory system does not adequately protect clients, provides little ethical support to lawyers, and does not ensure lawyers have access to continuing legal education resources and professional development opportunities.
The Kiribati Law Society Act 2006 (KLS Act) is appropriate and well-adapted to the local practise environment. However, it has several key failings, significant among which is its failure to ensure any funding for professional regulation. Because of its failings, locally, there is little confidence in the existing formal system to ensure lawyer competence and adherence to rules of professional conduct. The Lawyers Admission (Amendment) Rules (No 2) 1992 (Admission Rules) are functional, but are out-dated and contain features that limit effective regulation. The Professional Conduct and Practice (Kiribati Lawyers) Rules 2011 (Code of Ethics) are not enforced and there is a lack of consensus within the profession on what rules of professional ethics are or should be. In the short-term, establishing a Professional Conduct Committee (PCC) to adjudicate outstanding serious complaints will improve compliance. However, only a comprehensive review of the KLS Act, Admission Rules and the Code of Ethics can provide a means of ensuring the protection of clients, continuing professional development for lawyers and an effective complaints and discipline system.
To bring about beneficial change, a review of the statutory scheme for lawyer regulation and the Code of Ethics should be conducted with the objective of developing a system that can be both locally relevant and effective at ensuring Professional Standards in Kiribati.
Naylor, David, Lawyer Regulation in Kiribati (July 31, 2020).