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