By Richard Bhainie
THE Ministry of Legal Affairs and Attorney-General Chambers, under the stewardship of former Attorney-General Basil Williams, spent a total of $99.650M on Legal Fees/Retainer Agreements in 2019 on external Attorneys-at-law. This sum was disclosed in the 2019 Auditor General’s Report, which highlighted that the monies were paid to three law firms and seven external Attorneys-at-law, despite the Ministry having a Solicitor-General, one Deputy Solicitor-General, two Assistant Solicitors-General and six State Counsel in its employ. The amount was disbursed in 2019, subsequent to the passage of the No-Confidence Motion in December 2018, which was followed by a series of legal actions.
When the People’s Progressive Party/Civic assumed office in August 2020, the Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Anil Nandlall, S.C, disclosed that the APNU+AFC Government had spent an exorbitant amount on private retainer agreements, and that a forensic audit will be conducted into the matter. In the case of Zulfikar Mustapha, the Applicant who challenged the appointment of Justice (Ret’d) James Patterson by former President David Granger as Chairman of the Commission, the AG Chambers retained Barbadian Attorneys Hal Gollop, Q.C, and Ralph Thorne, Q.C, who were paid $US15,566.05 and $US30,920.97 respectively.
In the 2019 High Court action against then Speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Barton Scotland, challenging the validity of the No-Confidence Motion, Attorney-at-law Mr. Maxwell Edwards was paid $1.8 million. Edwards also appeared in the case of Compton Reid, a private citizen, and was paid the sum of $2 million, while Attorneys-at-law Rex Mckay and Neil Boston were paid $12M, while Dr. Francis Alexis, who appeared in the same case in the Court of Appeal, was paid $US25, 000.
In the No-Confidence case between the Attorney-General and Dr. Barton Scotland and Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo, the law firm of Mayo Robertson was paid $1.9 million, while in the case of Anil Nandlall and the Attorney-General, Robertson was paid $1 million. And in the case of the Attorney-General and Christopher Ram, Robertson was paid $600,000. In the case of Eslyn David and Chief Elections Officer Keith Lowenfield, Maxwell Edwards was paid $1.8 million in the High Court, and another $2 – 3 million in the Court of Appeal.
In a case filed by former Minister of Finance Mr. Winston Jordan, in his personal capacity against then Opposition Member of Parliament, Bishop Juan Edghill for libel, false charges and malicious prosecution, Attorney-at-law Roysdale Forde, S.C, was paid $1.7 million. When the foregoing figures were disclosed by Attorney-General Mr. Anil Nandlall, S.C, during an interview with a section of the media, he had observed that each of the cases were without merit, and that taxpayers were in the dark as to who was footing the bill. The APNU+AFC Government suffered tremendous losses in the series of lawsuits when the cases were heard at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). At the time of the Auditor-General’s Report, a special investigation was being conducted into the Legal fees that had been expended.