The umbrella body for lawyers in Barbados is being sued by one of its own senior attorneys for defamation.
Queen’s counsel Vernon Smith told Barbados TODAY this afternoon he was drafting a pre-action letter which was expected to be sent to the Barbados Bar Association by the end of this week, notifying its administration of his intention to sue unless the organization settles by paying out a sum of money to be determined.
Stating that this matter stemmed from the association’s refusal to register him to practice law if he did not pay value added tax (VAT) on his annual fees, Smith said the association’s action has caused his reputation and integrity to be called
“I am going to sue them . . . because they refuse to publish my name as a lawyer on the rolls of Barbados, and as they have said that I am practising illegally which is a serious defamation of Vernon Smith; and it also suggests that I am dishonest [by] practising without authority. That is what I am writing them now to let them know that I am going to proceed, unless they settle with me in respect of my name,” the senior attorney disclosed.
“That has to be dealt with once and for all. I never refused to pay the Bar fees. I refused to pay VAT, which is not chargeable on Bar fees. And I left it open that any time the court decided that VAT was payable I would pay it, and that is to the Government because it is not a debt to the Bar,” he emphasized.
He told Barbados TODAY that his refusal to pay VAT on the annual fees was based on the fact that the Bar is a statutory corporation.
“And in statutory corporations or corporations established by Acts of Parliament, all their powers, functions and objects have to be contained in the Act that establishes them as a corporation. The corporation can do nothing that does not allow them . . . or has no other powers other than in the Act that establishes them.”
Smith explained that nowhere in the Act does the Bar have any power to carry on any business whatsoever. He noted that the only way an entity can register for VAT, is if it carried on a business and provided services or goods that are “VATable” under the Value Added Tax Act.
“The Bar Association has no power to carry on business; and secondly, whatever services they supply in respect of lawyers are exempt services as established by Section 10 of the Act and referable to Schedule 2 of the Act. And the reason is, every member of the Bar Association has an interest in the stock; in other words in the property of the Bar Association.”
As a result, he reemphasized, the Bar Association did not provide any services or goods that are subject to VAT.
Smith recalled that in a previous hearing before Chief Justice Sir Marston Gibson on the fee issue, he submitted that the Act stated that any VAT not paid in respect of VATable supplies is a debt to the Crown, and only the Crown can sue for it; and can sue for it in any magistrates court.
“So I do not see how the Bar Association can claim VAT when the VAT is not a debt to them. Then in as much as they do not carry on a business they have no right registering as a registrant under the VAT Act,” he concluded.