Law Association defensive, Dean stands by speech

The Law As­so­ci­a­tion said yes­ter­day that there was not enough ev­i­dence to back claims made by the Dean of the Uni­ver­si­ty of the West In­dies Fac­ul­ty of Law, Rose-Marie Belle An­toine, that le­gal fees are too high in Trinidad and To­ba­go.

How­ev­er, Belle An­toine main­tained her po­si­tion made at the church ser­vice for the open­ing of the new law term on Mon­day adding that there was a lot more in her speech than just that.

 

She said that le­gal fees are just a part of a wider is­sue of so­cial dis­par­i­ty that needs to be dis­cussed.

“I’m talk­ing about the gaps and the in­equities in our ad­min­is­tra­tion of Jus­tice gen­er­al­ly is what I am speak­ing about. So that (the le­gal fees) was just two lit­tle lines in my speech,” she said on phone yes­ter­day, ex­press­ing that she al­so called for changes to the mag­is­tra­cy in her speech among oth­er is­sues.

How­ev­er her state­ment about le­gal fees has gar­nered the most re­spons­es, with the Law As­so­ci­a­tion is­su­ing a state­ment on Wednes­day.

In their state­ment, the Law As­so­ci­a­tion said it dis­ap­proves “in no un­cer­tain terms the charg­ing of ex­or­bi­tant fees by any mem­ber of the pro­fes­sion to any un­will­ing client.”

How­ev­er, the as­so­ci­a­tion al­so was crit­i­cal of Belle An­toine’s as­sess­ment that this coun­try’s le­gal fees were “per­haps the high­est in the re­gion.”

The as­so­ci­a­tion point­ed out that there were laws con­cern­ing the fees charged for prop­er­ty trans­ac­tions, and es­tate mat­ters while fees for civ­il lit­i­ga­tion mat­ters are the sub­ject of Prac­tice Di­rec­tions is­sued by the Chief Jus­tice.

The As­so­ci­a­tion not­ed that while there had been re­ports of high fees paid out by the state to some at­tor­neys, the vast ma­jor­i­ty of at­tor­neys were not ben­e­fi­cia­ries of such briefs.

The As­so­ci­a­tion, how­ev­er, ques­tioned the lack of sta­tis­tics pro­vid­ed to back Belle An­toine’s sug­ges­tion that Trinidad and To­ba­go’s fees were high­er than much of the re­gion.

The As­so­ci­a­tion said, “We are not aware of any com­par­a­tive re­gion­al or even na­tion­al study of the fees which at­tor­neys charge which may have in­formed Pro­fes­sor Belle An­toine’s opin­ion that lo­cal fees are high­er than our coun­ter­parts else­where in the re­gion.”

“At­tor­neys-at-Law are not im­mune from crit­i­cism. When crit­i­cism is due, the LATT will act. We do not for one mo­ment sug­gest that the pro­fes­sion is free of at­tor­neys who over­charge their clients at rates in ex­cess of the ju­di­cial guide­lines. It is how­ev­er gross­ly un­fair to taint the many hon­est, hard-work­ing and de­vot­ed at­tor­neys with un­sub­stan­ti­at­ed, gen­er­alised and pub­lic­i­ty catch­ing state­ments,” said the As­so­ci­a­tion.

How­ev­er, the Le­gal Fac­ul­ty dean said her state­ment was not pulled from thin air. How­ev­er, she felt the As­so­ci­a­tion should take a more in-depth look at what she said in her speech.

“I have worked all over the re­gion so I think I do have some ev­i­dence but I think the broad­er point is be­ing lost. I think they should read the full ad­dress of what I’m say­ing.

The is­sue of the fees of lawyers is just one small point of what I’m ref­er­enc­ing,” she said, “The pub­lic seems to say ex­act­ly what I’m say­ing is that they have dif­fi­cul­ties ac­cess­ing jus­tice be­cause of fees. But it’s not just about that. I think it would have been good for then to read to whole ad­dress and place it in con­text be­fore what many might be­lieve is pre­dictable de­fences.”

She al­so ad­dressed the crit­i­cism that she was not cur­rent­ly a prac­tic­ing at­tor­ney, as she ex­plained that she did many cas­es pro bono. While she ac­knowl­edged the reg­u­la­tions for fees, she ex­plained that she heard nu­mer­ous com­plaints from the pub­lic that they were un­able to ac­cess prop­er rep­re­sen­ta­tion due to the pric­ing cur­rent­ly.

“If we can’t af­ford what­ev­er price they are pay­ing there is some­thing in the sys­tem that needs to be fixed, you don’t think so? I think they need to look at the en­tire ad­dress which is about col­lec­tive re­spon­si­bil­i­ty which is about in­equities in the sys­tem, which is about the so­cio-eco­nom­ic dis­par­i­ty in the so­ci­ety.

This is the things I am talk­ing about,” said Belle An­toine who urged that the dis­cus­sion move past the fees.

“Be­tween the Law As­so­ci­a­tion and the pub­lic they can find so­lu­tions, it’s an im­por­tant dis­cus­sion,” she said.

Reporter: Peter Christopher

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