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Govt Postpones Gaming Patron Tax Till Court Hearing

Alfred Sears, QC, and Wayne Munroe, QC, outside Supreme Court on Friday. Photos: Terrel W Carey/Tribune staff

Alfred Sears, QC, and Wayne Munroe, QC, outside Supreme Court on Friday. Photos: Terrel W Carey/Tribune staff

By KHRISNA RUSSELL

krussell@tribunemedia.net

Deputy Chief Reporter

THE government Friday agreed to postpone the imposition of its new five per cent gaming house patron tax until there is a hearing on October 5th in the Supreme Court.

The sliding scale, which came into force July 1, also has been set down.

This decision came after gaming house operators on Thursday night filed an application in court seeking leave for judicial review of both government taxes.

On Friday morning, Queen’s Councils Wayne Munroe and Alfred Sears, representing several web shops, appeared before Supreme Court Justice Indra Charles where they sought an injunction to block the patron tax, which was to come into effect Saturday – September 1. One of the applications also extended to the sliding scale.

Speaking following the court appearance, Attorney General Carl Bethel said this issue had more to do with the process by which the tax is implemented.

“The court itself was unable to proceed with a full hearing and we (the Attorney General’s Office) were certainly not in a position having only been served late yesterday (Thursday) evening to intelligently oppose the application for leave to bring judicial review proceedings,” Mr Bethel told reporters. “We intend to oppose the application should it come to that.

“And so the court has set the fifth of October as the date for that hearing. In the meanwhile we have been urged to have further discussions with the applicants to see if we can narrow any areas of dispute and we’ll do so.

“No injunction has been issued, but out of respect for the court and the difficulty the court was in that the court could not intelligently and in a fair judicious way have dealt with a matter on the basis of such urgency, we have agreed that there would be an undertaking that the tax wouldn’t be imposed pending the hearing on the fifth of October. That is a courtesy that we extended to colleagues opposite also to the courts so that the court is able to effectively perform its function bearing in mind that it would be unwise to defend your right of way at your peril when the court is not comfortable and then the court will make a ruling that you may not be comfortable with rather than to have a ruling and rather than to have any injunction, we deemed it to be in the highest standards of judicial conduct and the conduct of council to grant an accommodation to allow the court to have the comfort of fully considering all of our arguments. So the court is able to make the best decision for the Bahamian people in these circumstance.”

He continued: “So we have agreed on a date to come back pending that date. We’ve agreed that the tax would not be imposed so that the court would not feel any pressure in terms of reaching a fair verdict on these issues.

“The important issues are the policy and they ought to be properly ventilated.”

In the meantime, all parties have been urged to have further discussions to see if any of the disputes can be narrowed, Mr Bethel said.

“If we do not have an agreement that brings an end to the litigation then we will fight the litigation on its merits and seek to prevent the judicial review from being commenced by court order. If that should fail then the 23-26 (of October) are the dates adjourned for the fighting of the full judicial review application.”

“It is always good to have jaw, jaw, jaw, rather than war, war, war so says Winston Churchill and it’s good for council to have discussions,” he further said.

Mr Munroe has said because his clients are questioning the taxes, it is the right thing to have them set down.

He said: “To be clear the position of the attorney general is that we are wrong but a court would have to say whether he is right or we are right, but in the meantime it would not be fair to move on with things.

“The example is if you are supposed to hang and I say you shouldn’t hang but while you work you can’t go ahead and execute the person.”

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