LAWYERS can no longer take more than 10 per cent of any sums awarded to their clients after Cabinet approved the Legal Practitioners (Amendment) Decree 2012 yesterday.
The amendments were announced by Attorney-General Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum.
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said the amendment was made after government received reports of lawyers taking 50 per cent and in some cases more than 50 per cent of the settlement amount awarded by the courts.
He said the amendments would in fact protect the poor who might not have had access to funds in the first place.
"The document has brought about these changes to protect members of the public in particular the vulnerable members," Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said.
"It does not affect commercial clients et cetera, it mostly affects those at the lower end of the socio-economic scale and protects them from unscrupulous lawyers."
Mr Sayed-Khaiyum clarified that lawyers would be able to claim more than 10 per cent if they had prior agreements with clients.
"They can have amounts above the 10 per cent contingency fees but only after the judgement sum has been given to the client and if they have an agreement before hand," he said.
He said it was also now a legal provision for settlements to be paid into trust accounts. Lawyers must also pay settlements to their clients within seven days of it being paid into the trust account.
"What we have found is that a lot of lawyers sit on it, they must pay that within seven days and they must file an affidavit with the court to say that they have done so," he said.
Under the new amendments, foreign law firms will also be given the freedom to operate in Fiji, a move that Mr Sayed-Khaiyum said would allow the business community a range of law firms to choose from.
"The opening of branch offices by foreign law firms will provide the necessary competition to the local lawyers in providing quality and professional legal services," he said.
The amendments to the Legal Practitioners Decree are expected to be gazetted next week.