Defence lawyers want more moneyTuesday, September 21, 2021
BY ALICIA DUNKLEY-WILLIS
Lloyd McFarlane, the attorney assigned to represent Andre “Blackman” Bryan, accused leader of the feared Klansman gang, yesterday, on behalf of a miffed team of defence lawyers, appealed for a review of the sums being paid to the attorneys who are assigned by the Legal Aid Council.
The issue of remuneration for the trial of the 33 accused gang members which is expected to last for the entire Michaelmas Term has been the source of much contention in past months. Up to last Thursday Bryan had been the only one of the 33 without legal representation for the trial which started yesterday. McFarlane's services were secured following an intervention by Supreme Court Judge Justice Leighton Pusey, who has been handling the case management hearings in the matter.
Speaking yesterday after the prosecution concluded its opening in what is regarded as the biggest trial of its kind in Jamaica's history, McFarlane said he had been asked to indicate, on behalf of his peers, that the issue was far from settled. He said, while the attorneys had taken the decision to proceed, “there is still something that is not yet truly satisfied”.
McFarlane said while he was aware that the matter was not within Chief Justice Bryan Sykes' “jurisdiction” the defence attorneys felt pressed to “indicate for the records”.
“We have months ahead of us, and we still believe that there should be some further review in terms of what is being offered,” the senior attorney stated.
The issue of remuneration has been a sore point in gang trials, the most recent being the Uchence Wilson gang trial which concluded last year.
One attorney, speaking with the Jamaica Observer last week had indicated discontent about the pay package amongst attorneys serving as legal aid counsel.
“Many of us would have made an application in court some months ago to ask the court's leave to remove us from the matter and the court refused to do so, saying that the basis on which our application was made was not compelling enough. So, we are pretty much locked into the matter,” the individual said then.
The tab for the lawyers is one which, the Observer learnt, raised hackles during Cabinet deliberations with reference being made to the Uchence Wilson gang trial that ended in October last year after stretching across nine months. In that case, 24 accused initially faced the court, 15 were subsequently acquitted. That matter, the Observer has learnt, carried a price tag of $60 million.
The purse strings for the current Klansman gang trial have been tightened, the Observer was told.
“The offer was $300,000 for the first month for senior attorneys and $150,000 per month after. There is also a cap, so the amounts paid cannot go beyond a million dollars, but we have no control over that [the cap, given that the trial will stretch for months]. For junior lawyers the fee is $200,000 for the first month and $100,000 for each month after,” the Observer was told.
“So you are correct to say lawyers are restive,” the attorney said, adding that there are some lawyers who do not want to go to court, but they recognise that the downside of that is the possibility of being held in contempt by the chief justice.
Earlier this year, well over a dozen alleged members of the gang, who were among 50 individuals originally arrested and charged under the anti-gang legislation, walked free as the evidence against them did not meet the threshold for conviction.
In 2019, Tesha Miller, leader of the other faction of the gang, was convicted for orchestrating the 2008 murder of then Jamaica Transit Urban Company Chairman Douglas Chambers. Blackman, the alleged hitman, was acquitted of the killing in 2016.