Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine
THE Head of the Law Faculty of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine Campus, Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine says that the fees lawyers charge in Trinidad and Tobago are too high.
She was delivering the feature address on Monday at the Inter-faith Service of the opening of the Law Term of Trinidad and Tobago at the Trinity Cathedral in Port-of-Spain.
She said, “Currently, in Trinidad and Tobago, lawyer fees are too high in my humble opinion.
“As a Caribbean woman I am conscious that they are among the highest, if not the highest than anywhere else in the Caribbean.
“I wonder if this is partly because, although there has been a fused profession for over three decades, we are still clinging on to the division – instructing attorney etc.
“This is resulting in two sets of fees.
“This is not necessarily the case elsewhere in the region. Lawyers’ fees are directly related to the quality of our justice system and how the citizenry can participate in it.
“Perhaps the time has come to think about contingency fees?”
Antoine added, “We all think that we are entitled to high fees and high status because after all, we studied hard and deserve it.
“However, our ability to demand such an elevated place in society came at a social cost.
“Our successes are not only because of our individual merit but bears a direct relationship to the sacrifices that the society made on our behalf.
“Student loans, GATE, and collective decisions by the state all played a part in our legal education.
“Not long ago, only the very wealthy could become attorneys. It is still that way in many countries. Should the spoils be for us alone?
“There are many ordinary citizens out there who also have the right to be heard, the right to participate and obtain a remedy in our judicial system based on the merit of their cases, but they are prohibited from doing so simply because it is too expensive.”
Praise for TTJIM
She praised the new online court management system – the Trinidad and Tobago Judicial Information Management System (TTJIM).
Antoine said, “Among other things, it facilitates searches and creates case information on cases for all of the courts; The development of COURTPAY: making payments easier through an online, electronic payment system, is also a welcome initiative.
“Court Pay is an example of process reform aimed at increasing efficiency and service delivery, as well as, improving safety, accessibility and convenience.
“The introduction of online probate searches should also be mentioned.”
She noted that TTJIM was being expanded to the Magistrates’ Courts, Antoine.
The head of the Law Faculty said, “I am pleased to see that TTJIM is currently being developed further for expansion into the Magistrates’ Court, and is being rolled out to the Magistracy in phases, beginning with the Criminal and Traffic jurisdiction in the first quarter of the 2018/2019 fiscal year.
“Regrettably, the magistracy has far too often been seen as the poor cousin in the judiciary.
“The vast majority of persons who treat with the judicial system will do so through the magistracy. If we are serious about access and equality in our justice system, it is incumbent upon us to put in place radical reforms to the magistracy.
“Justice should really not be measured by dollars and sense. The dignity of obtaining redress and being heard abounds whether it is $100 or one million dollars, particularly for a poor man or woman accustomed to being marginalised in our class biased societies.”
She said, “I have no doubt that TTJIM will improve the Magistracy’s ability to supervise time and events from the beginning of cases to their finalization. Automated case flow will provide crucial information to trace and track cases.
“More importantly, it introduces accountability within our judicial system, something which the public has been clamouring for.”