Fenton Harcourt William Ramsahoye passed away on or about the 27th December, 2018 in Barbados at the age of 89. Being out of the jurisdiction at the time, one was not able to pay tribute to a man who was a giant on the Caribbean legal landscape and was held by the writer in awe and reverence over a period of 45 years.
The following words of tribute are now being proffered.
I always initiated our conversations whether on the phone or face to face by referring to him as “The Doctor, what surgery are you performing now?”. Those words were uttered out of a sense of respect for my elders and seniors; I could never bring myself to call him to his face Fenton.
My first encounter with the “Doctor” was in 1974 in a Courtroom in Guyana when I was a rookie Junior on the other side in a case which he had come to lead. At that time, he was already a towering figure in the legal profession in the Caribbean, whose presence commanded attention and respect.
He earned many accolades over the course of a lengthy and distinguished professional career, including his knighthood. However, all of those pale in comparison with the fact that he was regarded as the leading Caribbean Practitioner for the Privy Council (PC) for a number of decades. He was held in high esteem at the PC. Without doing a “fact check” it would not be wholly inaccurate to state that he probably appeared in the PC in cases from the Caribbean more often than most Practitioners taken together over the past 30 years. That was a jurisdiction which he revelled in. He always regarded himself in any major case initiated in the Caribbean as passing through the local Courts on his way to the PC. Many times, he would say he did not need fees in the Caribbean Courts but would await the costs in the PC when he succeeded. He was justified in many instances. He was disappointed when his native land of Guyana abolished the PC in 1972 since he knew that this was done not to complete the circle of independence (as many academics at the UWI law faculty in Barbados have taught) but for narrow political purposes.
It would be difficult to dispute that he was the father of Constitutional Law in the Commonwealth Caribbean and as well as the Conservatory Order as referred to by the PC in the case of Olive Casey Jaundoo v Attorney General of Guyana.
It would not be hyperbolic to suggest that his multiple appearances in the Privy Council dating back to the early 1970’s did make a significant contribution to dispelling the myth held by a few educated English people that those of us from this region could not communicate properly in the English language.
On a personal level my wife Donna and myself hold very fond memories of the many occasions when we enjoyed being regaled with his many stories on the occasions when we took him to dinner or invited him home during his frequent visits to Trinidad being between 1998 to 2010. He was one of the main speakers at my 50th birthday celebration. We did not see much of him within recent times since he spent more time in Barbados. The last time I encountered him was some 10 months ago during a walk on the boardwalk in Barbados at Hastings near to where he lived. I knew at that time that he was in the “departure lounge” (as we all are) but never appreciated that his flight would be called so soon.
The legacy of the “Doctor” in the Caribbean Legal profession is secured for eternity. Not only was he the author of the text The Development of Land Law in British Guiana (for his PhD thesis) but more importantly as a Practitioner conceiving of and conducting diverse cases with success to the PC there is an enduring body of precedent which succeeding Practitioners will continue to use as reference.
May his soul rest in peace.
Claude H. Denbow S.C.