Udecott’s estimate of its legal costs for its judicial review proceedings, which concluded on Friday with High Court Justice Mira Dean-Armorer ruling against Udecott’s favour, is understood to be $4 million. The figure is said by reliable sources to have been disclosed in an estimate of costs which Udecott lawyers submitted during the proceedings at the High Court.
At court, Udecott was represented by British Queen’s Counsel Andrew Goddard, as well as local attorneys Devesh Maharaj and Vanessa Mohammed.
But on Friday, Dean-Armorer ordered Udecott to pay seven-eighths of the total costs of the case, meaning the State enterprise will have to virtually foot the bill for all of the other parties to the proceedings.
This would include lawyers for the commissioners, led by another British QC Michael Beloff. Also appearing were local attorneys Kerwyn Garcia (husband of Science and Tertiary Education Minister Christine Kangaloo) and Ian Roach. Sources yesterday put the commissioner’s costs at roughly $3 million, with lawyers noting that the fees for Beloff — known as one of the United Kingdom’s top barristers — are likely to be substantial.
According to a 2007 report in the United Kingdom’s The Independent newspaper, “Beloff is one of the UK’s highest-paid barristers, representing major clients and controversial cases, raking in around ?1million a year in fees.”
However, under legal practice, attorneys normally bill in consideration of any pre-existing relationship with clients. Beloff, who has worked for the State in previous matters —most notably one involving former Chief Justice Satnarine Sharma in 2006 — may have come to a relaxed fee arrangement.
Additionally, local attorney Colin Kangaloo (Christine Kangaloo’s brother), also entered an appearance in the case on behalf of Attorney General John Jeremie. The Attorney General’s watching brief is understood to come in at approximately $500,000.
The order for seven-eighths of costs was made due to the judge’s rejection of all but one argument made by Udecott, lawyers yesterday noted. All of the costs are subject to revision and final approval by the court which may revise them upwards or downwards. Sources yesterday indicated that Udecott’s $4 million estimate could be revised down.
These costs are separate and apart for legal costs for another Udecott court case currently pending in the High Court, as well as a third case which was concluded last year over a legal point that was raised during the inquiry.
They are also separate and apart from the legal costs incurred by all State entities at the proceedings of the inquiry, and the overall administrative costs of the inquiry itself which has been budgeted at about $20 million. On Friday Justice Dean-Armorer cleared the way for the submission of a final report by the Commissioners to President George Maxwell Richards.
However Sunday Newsday understands that a final report is unlikely to go forward to the President until closer to the end of this month due to the eleventh-hour submission, by Udecott, of closing submissions.
It is understood that the State company submitted closing arguments on March 1, and that parties to the inquiry are likely to be invited to respond to the closing arguments, a process that could take weeks.
It is also understood that Works and Transport Minister Colm Imbert has also lodged closing submissions with the inquiry and that parties have been given until tomorrow to respond to the Minister’s remarks.
In the interim, the Trinidad and Tobago Transparency Institute (TTTI) yesterday urged the State to protect the inquiry from further court action by Udecott.
“The TTTI welcomes the High Court judgment that clears the way for the Commissioners to deliver their report on the inquiry into the construction sector to President Richards without further delay,” TTTI chairman Victor Hart said.
“TTTI has been vocal in its view that Udecott’s attempts to frustrate the work of the Commissioners were not in the public interest.
“Moreover, we were puzzled that they were allowed to use taxpayers’ money in this failed attempt to derail a Cabinet-appointed enquiry.
“We hope that the authorities will take steps to ensure that any appeal by Udecott to the High Court judgment will not be funded from the public purse,” he added.
“Our hope is that no further obstacles will be put in the Commissioners’ way to complete their mandate and that their report will be laid in Parliament and made available to the public at the earliest opportunity.”