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Former CJ sees merit in hiring foreign silk
Former Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) president Michael de la Bastide does not believe there’s any fixation in T&T with retaining British QCs. Rather, it’s a provision in local law that enables a lawyer from a Commonwealth country to practise here that makes people bring them, said de la Bastide, also a former Chief Justice.
Dismissing the cost, which he said he could not give, he said the law makes provision for a minister, after consultation with the Chief Justice, to make an order for lawyers from England to be retained for a case. “I have no knowledge of the cost, but I imagine it would be quite a lot. But once the facility is there, the State, individuals and companies are going to take advantage of it. “If you are going abroad for your representation, you will want to get the best,” de la Bastide added.
He noted this trend did tend to indicate a certain diffidence about relying on regional lawyers, which is something to be regretted. “But people, if they can afford it, have the option of bringing leading counsel from England.” De la Bastide said there is a common trend of considering local barristers inferior to foreign ones but that was not always the case. Noting he was not impugning the quality of local lawyers, de la Bastide said most of the QCs coming to T&T are extremely skilful advocates.
The setting up of the Caribbean Court of Justice was an effort to move away from depending on the Privy Council in England as a final court of appeal for Caribbean citizens. Former Attorney General Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj also dismissed the notion that T&T has a fixation with British QCs because of colonial ties. He said lawyers are now burdened with very serious issues which need a lot of research and skills in advocacy.
“I don’t think one should just throw aside the fact that expert submissions help judges make better judgements. “SCs from the Caribbean also appear in judicial committees in the Privy Council,” Maharaj noted. Maharaj felt, however, the real issue concerning the State’s retention of QCs was the large battery of other lawyers hired to assist them.
“The present government has decided to load cases with multiple lawyers—QCs, SCs, junior counsel and instructing attorneys. An examination of some of the cases shows it is not necessary for taxpayers’ money to be wasted like that,” he said. He noted most of these lawyers are not State lawyers and appear to be the same ones in most cases. He said assistants for QCs can be obtained from the group of State lawyers.
Attorney General Anand Ramlogan, asked to comment on the charge, said Maharaj was once known in legal cirles as the “British QC master.” He said Maharaj retained not only QCs for the MacKay Commission of Enquiry into the administration of justice, but foreign junior counsel as well, when he locked horns with Chief Justice de la Bastide over the issue of funding for the judiciary.
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