By Loshaun Dixon
Basseterre, St. Kitts-Attorney at Law Chesley Hamilton and Attorney General Vincent Byron are at logger heads over payment for Mr. Hamilton’s work as a court assisted Lawyer that he claims he has yet to receive.
Hamilton last week used the Budget debates to protest these payments owed to him by the government outside Government Headquarters on Fort Street.
On Monday (Dec. 12), Hamilton was observed protesting on Fort Street just outside Team Unity Headquarters and told this reporter that he was insulted by the Attorney General’s response to his plea. He also claimed he is also owed by Team Unity for seven months’ rent for their headquarters.
“The Attorney General chose to laugh at me on Friday when I was demonstrating and I feel if anybody wants to laugh at me for trying to earn an income or get paid for work I have done then they shouldn’t be associated with anything that owes me,” he said.
He added that he was the tenant and the sublet to the campaign but they are in arrears for seven months.
“All I am asking is they pay the seven months that they are in arrears and then you can continue to laugh,” he complained.
He said the electricity bills on the headquarters is outstanding and he is getting warnings stating the electricity could be disconnected and it would affect his office where the bills are already paid.
“I am asking the attorney General to pay the rent so that I can have money to pay my bills and do other things because there is money out of that rent that is owed to me.”
Hamilton charged that the government is attempting to take a citizen’s livelihood and it was no laughing matter.
“That is what he was laughing at. If he paid me my money that has been worked for then that is ok. It is a serious matter it is a matter of life and death. At best he thinks it is a matter that the government must pay $10,000 to $15,000 for. I don’t even think you can put a price on providing justice,” he said.
He claimed he capped his bill between $50,000 and $70,000 and that the government owes him a debt of gratitude.
The Attorney however warned Byron that the government is interfering with human rights issue in refusing to pay him.
“If the Attorney General wants to pick a fight, he is picking the wrong fight because this is an international human rights issue. So if he wants to make it a regional or international issue let him continue not paying me,” he said.
Addressing the matter in Parliament on Tuesday, Mr. Byron revealed that there is a payment scale that was established 10 years ago that ranges from $2500 -7500 based on the particulars of the case.
He added that from 2010 onward, lawyers with less than 10 years of practice would receive $7500 and a per diem of $750 per day if they attended court. It the defendant pled guilty, he would receive $2,500. Lawyers with 10 to 20 years of practice would receive $10,000.
“Those are clearly established scale…that the registry of the high court manages so that when the judge assigned a case to a lawyer who was in court he would ask for somebody to offer to do the case.,” he said.
He also said he met with Hamilton on more than one occasion to discuss the matter and that Hamilton sent a letter in August 2015requesting particulars where he identified a number of names for whom he has acted as a court assisted lawyer.
“We have had to verify the case numbers. We had to verify the dates that these cases had been conducted and had to verify the particular outcome of these cases. This information was not contained in any of the letters received by the office of the Attorney General,” he said.
Byron disclosed that the information was not supplied when it was requested from Hamilton.
“No particulars were provided by the attorney and for each and every name submitted he requested a retainer of 75,000 for a grand total of $2.1M that he wanted the Office Of The Attorney General to pay,” he said.
The Attorney General added that they have done extensive investigation into the matter and if any lawyer had been assisting the court the matter ought to be settled within the existing frame work .
Byron also stated they have reviewed the process and made a comparison to what happens in other Caribbean countries including Trinidad and Tobago where in matters when the court appoints a lawyer, that lawyer may receive a maximum of $3,000 USD unless the judge certifies an increase that will not exceed $4,000 USD.
“Here in St. Kitts and Nevis the fees that have been put in place more than 10 years ago and reviewed by the Assistant Secretary of the court five to six years ago and the review we did last year, and based on the circumstances increased it 50 percent,” he said.
He revealed that over the past two years, eight lawyers have been paid a sum $425,300 as court assisted lawyers.
They include Dr. Henry Browne, Heskett Benjamin, Chesley Hamilton, Fitzroy Eddy, John Cato, Robelto Hector and Mrs Marissa Hobson-Newman.
“From that $425,300 Chesley Hamilton had received 158,500. The Office of the Attorney General would continue to review the restructure in the New Year. We will present a number of option including the creation of an office of Public Defendant in which attorneys who will be dedicated to offer legal aid defence to those charged with criminal matters,” he said.