There has been a new twist to the controversy surrounding the policy that lawyers should be banned from practising or not be heard by the courts unless they have paid their annual subscriptions, including Value Added Tax (VAT), to the Barbados Bar Association.
The Bar, which for years had been refusing to accept subscriptions unless VAT was included, has now apparently back-tracked on its position, in the wake of the Wednesday, April 22 publication by Barbados TODAY of a story that Queen’s Counsel Vernon Smith intended to sue Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson for “disbarring” him because VAT was not paid on his fees.
Within days of publication of the story, Smith was heard by another judge and the Bar accepted the subscription – minus VAT – of attorney Michael Springer. However, Smith, who has been refusing to pay VAT, claiming that the Bar had no authority to impose such a tax, told this newspaper he would not now be re-submitting any fees to the association, insisting the high court would have to make a declaration on the VAT issue.
The senior lawyer said he would also be pressing ahead with the suit against the chief justice, whom he is accusing of breaching his constitutional rights by effectively “disbarring” him without due process, based on the word of former Bar president Barry Gale, QC, who told the chief justice on April 14, that Smith had not paid his annual fee.
Barbados TODAY has also been reliably informed that last week, when attorney Vonda Pile appeared before Justice Sonia Richards, Bar president Tariq Khan sought to inform the court that Pile had not paid her subscription. However, our sources said the judge did not entertain Khan, instructing him instead, to make a formal application to the court.
The matter of annual subscriptions has received the official backing of Sir Marston. In a letter dated 19 June, 2014 and addressed to then Bar president Barry Gale, QC, the chief justice went as far as telling Gale he would instruct the then Acting Registrar of the Supreme Court, Laurie-Ann Smith-Bovell, to inform the attorneys listed in his [Gale’s] correspondence dated 16 June, 2014, that their practising certificates were not be valid in the absence of the subscription.
Sir Marston’s letter, a copy of which has been obtained by this newspaper, also stated that the acting registrar should direct those lawyers to return their practising certificates as soon as possible. Citing section 10 (2) of the Legal Profession Act, the head of the judiciary wrote [this section of the law] . . . “provides that no person should practice law unless he has a practising certificate. In addition, section 45 (3) provides that a practising certificate should not be issued to an attorney at law until the annual subscription required by section 44 of the act has been paid.”
Sir Marston informed Gale that, accordingly, a copy of his letter would be sent to each Justice of Appeal, Judge of the High Court and Magistrates, informing them that those attorneys who had not paid their subscriptions, had no right of any audience before the court.
Ironically, the Barbados Bar Association had passed a resolution at its 2008 annual conference, agreeing that the VAT issue would no longer be pursued.
Last week, Queen’s Counsel Smith wrote the Chief Justice informing him of his intention to start legal proceedings against him and demanding that he give his reasons for refusing to hear him on Tuesday April 14, when he tried to represent his client –– Branlee Consulting Services Inc –– the company owned by former CLICO chairman, Leroy Parris.
Smith told this newspaper that he had not yet received a reply from the Chief Justice. Bar president Tariq Khan could not be reached for comment.