THE Bench-Bar Committee, chaired by the Chief Justice and comprising members of the Judiciary and the Law Association, is expected to resume meetings.
The committee, which traditionally met periodically in an effort to encourage a good working relationship between judges and lawyers and ensure the smooth overall administration of justice, has not met for at least two terms.
However, in its annual report presented to members at Friday’s annual general meeting, the association’s outgoing secretary said the CJ agreed to the re-convening of the committee in response to a letter sent on February 1, asking for meetings to resume.
From the Judiciary’s side, the committee will comprise: Justices of Appeal Charmaine Pemberton and Gillian Lucky as chair and vice-chair; Justices Nadia Kangaloo and Lisa Ramsumair-Hinds and acting Justice Nirala Bansee-Sookhai, representing the civil, criminal and family and children divisions respectively.
The association’s members will be appointed now that a new council was elected on Friday, but will comprise the president, vice-president, treasurer, secretary and two members depending on the issues to be addressed.
Senior Counsel Sophia Chote, SC, is the new president and Rajiv Persad is vice-president. The post of treasurer will be voted for later this month.
Outgoing secretary Shankar Baidaisee provided an update on the work of the various committees of the association in his report to the membership.
He also revealed that several members were identified as practising law without a valid practising certificate, which is a disciplinary offence under the Legal Profession Act.
Baidaisee also accounted for the temporary reduction of subscription fees by 50 per cent because of the hardship caused by the pandemic to the profession.
The approximate cost of the decision was $2.5 million.
On the issue of value added tax (VAT) refunds for 2017-2019 to attorneys arising out of a 2019 judgment that the tax was not chargeable on members’ fees, the outgoing secretary said the association has not issued any and had not come to a conclusive position on whether any will be paid.
Baidaisee said it was seeking further assistance from accounting and finance professionals on the issue and was writing to the Board of Inland Revenue to claim the refund of the VAT paid on fees.
Efforts are also continuing to engage individual constituent groups such as the Assembly of Southern Lawyers, Tobago Lawyers Association, and Eastern Lawyers Association, Chaguanas Lawyers Association, Family Law Association and others, with a view to inclusivity and harmonisation between the council and the specialised groups, he reported.
Covid19 not only saw the association having to cancel some of its traditional events, such as the wine-and-cheese end-of-term function and the annual dinner and award ceremony, it also saw it hosting a virtual 50-year call-to-the-Bar where attorneys Leonard Birmingham, Steve Chatoor, Lucille Mair, Joseph Pantor, Lennox Sanguinette and Hendrickson Seunath, SC, were honoured.
The pandemic also forced the association to postpone its hosting of the Lawyers’ Cricket World Cup in Trinidad, which was carded for July/August this year. It is now tentatively scheduled for April 2022, and teams from England, Australia, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are all expected to attend once travel restrictions are lifted in the various jurisdictions.
Baidaisee also noted that the TT Lawyers’ Football Club (TTLFC) wasalso stymied in its preparations for the annual “Juniors v Seniors” football match and Footballing Tour of Tobago, due to the pandemic. However, he said once restrictions are lifted and regulations permit, the TTLFC intends on continuing its pro-bono outreach work in various communities as well as its regional tour in 2022.