Knight Calls for Removal of GCT From Legal Fees in Criminal Cases

Member of Parliament for East Central St. Catherine, K.D. Knight, has called on Cabinet to authorize an amendment of the relevant law that would result in litigants being relieved of paying General Consumption Tax (GCT) on legal fees, during criminal cases.
Mr. Knight, who is also an attorney-at-law, made the call while supporting a Bill to amend the Legal Profession Act, which was passed in the House on March 27. “When it comes to services being rendered, in relation to civil matters, I find no difficulty with GCT being attached, but more and more, I am feeling uncomfortable with GCT being attached to criminal cases, where so many of those who are charged before the Courts can’t pay the fees anyway, and therefore they have to go under the Legal Aid Act. Also, there are those who can barely pay the fees,” he said.
Mr. Knight stressed the difference between the circumstances of a criminal and a civil case. “The civil case refers to a matter that is between citizens, where they have some difficulty and go to the courts for adjudication. But the criminal case is where the state is taking the individual before the court in circumstances, and sometimes, that citizen has no right to be there because he is innocent,” he added.
He further noted that even if the citizen is innocent, he/she must retain the services of a lawyer. In addition, they are required to pay GCT, which goes to the state. “It seems oppressive. Therefore, I think it would be a good thing if the Cabinet could, as soon as is possible, authorize an amendment to the relevant statute. The fact is that the persons who suffer most are the poor,” Mr. Knight said.
Among the main amendments to the Legal Profession Act are provisions that have been changed to allow for Attorneys-at-law who practise without a certificate to face disciplinary sanctions, instead of criminal charges.
The Bill was considered and passed by the House in 1998, but failed to get approval in the Senate, as some members took issue with the proposal to treat practising without a certificate as a criminal offence. “The Bill fell off the Order Paper before the matter was has been revised but with a modification of that particular provision. The current Bill treats practising without a certificate as professional misconduct – a matter that attracts a disciplinary sanction, instead of a criminal sanction,” Minister of National Security, Dr. Peter Phillips explained
He said that the legislation also sought to tighten up the legislative provisions in some instances and clarify certain areas of ambiguity, and generally to: enhance the effectiveness of the regulatory machinery, particularly in regard to the disciplinary commission.
The principal changes deal with: practising as an attorney without a practising certificate; fines for offences under the Act; cases of admission to practise gained by fraud or misrepresentation; the jurisdiction and powers of the disciplinary committee; the effective date, stay of execution, enforcement and publication of orders of the disciplinary committee; the right of appeal against dismissal by the disciplinary committee; the withdrawal of orders suspending attorneys-at-law from practising; and contingency fees.

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