Five business entities were on the Summary Court mention list on Wednesday for alleged offences against the National Pensions Law. Of the five, four face charges first laid in 2008. The main charges have been failure to contribute to a pension plan for employees and/or failure to pay arrears within the time given by the Superintendent of Pensions.
Magistrate Kirsty-Ann Gunn made it clear in each case that she expected some movement toward resolution by the next mention date.
“The court has a specific role to play,” she said. “There comes a point when either there has to be a trial, or a plea, or the matter is withdrawn. How far this matter can be taken by a further adjournment, I know not. My concern is the listing: we are now putting matters into March. Next month will be the fourth anniversary of this matter before the court.”
The magistrate was speaking of charges against Champion House, which was represented by attorney Richard Barton. He had suggested another mention in the court of Chief Magistrate Nova Hall because she had been presiding over the matter “every step of the way.”
Crown Counsel Kenneth Ferguson, who was assigned responsibility for pension cases late last year, noted as he usually does, that the ultimate objective of the prosecutions is for employees to get what is legally theirs.
Mr. Ferguson called Superintendent of Pensions Amy Wolliston to advise of any negotiations between her office and the business owners. He reported that she and the owners ”had words at her office yesterday, but no firm offer was made.”
Mr. Barton told the court he had come into the matter in December 2011 and to date had not received any documentation. He said he had been told by the Crown that it was an arduous, tedious process to put the documents together.
Mr. Ferguson replied that documents had been given to the owners’ first attorney. He noted that every time a defendant changes counsel, the Crown has to go through a lot of time and expense to provide new papers.
Court files showed that company owners entered guilty pleas in February 2010 to charges of failing to contribute to a pension plan and failing to pay arrears. Mr. Ferguson said the Crown and the previous defence attorney were of the view that if the company paid what was owed, it would affect the sentence. “The point was always for the employees to get their money,” he observed.
Mr. Barton said he had outlined a proposed payment schedule. “I’ve been told in no uncertain terms it was unacceptable. There is a demand for a lump sum.” He asked what he was to do when the offer of payment had been rejected.
The magistrate replied, “There has to be some movement and it does seem you are at a stalemate.” She said the public requires justice and the defendants deserve closure.
She asked Mr. Ferguson how much paperwork was involved. “A lot,” he replied. She asked if it could be scanned and sent to Mr. Barton electronically. “If you require a formal direction, I will give it,” the magistrate told Mr. Ferguson. “I’m not saying this is a precedent, but there must be progress.”
Mr. Ferguson told the court, “The payment of pension is the duty of the company. It cannot flout the law and expect us to accept anything they offer.”
The matter was set for mention again on 17 October.
Steve Reid and Reid’s Premier Tours also has their 2008 pension charges set for 17 October. Attorney Charmaine Richter said it was difficult for her client to answer the charges because he had no records. Immigration officers had come with a warrant and seized the records in June 2007 and Mr. Reid had no copies, she said. An affidavit with the date and names of the officers had been filed in March.
The magistrate suggested that the specific details in the affidavit would refresh someone’s memory at the Immigration Department and adjourned the matter for further investigation.
Also set for mention again on 17 October were charges relating to Hurlstone Ltd. and related companies. Ms Richter appeared. Mr. Ferguson referred to this 2011 file as “one of the newer matters”. He said he had spoken to the defendant’s attorney as to how they proposed to pay off arrears and there was to be a meeting with the parties, the Crown and the Superintendent of Pensions.
Attorney Morris Garcia appeared for A & C Construction Ltd and referred to material that had been submitted on behalf of the defendant. Mr. Ferguson asked for time to review it, since the contention was that some of the people employed by the company had been employed for less than nine months.
The magistrate agreed that the information would affect how the matter proceeded and set the next mention for 31 October.
The final matter was another 2008 case, this one involving Precision Landscaping. Attorney John Furniss said his client was ready for trial that day, but Mr. Ferguson advised the court that the prosecution could not go ahead. He said the trial date had been set before it was realised that the Superintendent of Pensions had made plans to travel that afternoon.
The magistrate said it was not a matter that could be squeezed into one hour. Mr. Furniss said he could not complain because he had asked for adjournments in the past. The trial was set for two days commencing 20 March 2013.