Sir Fenton – aunique legal genius

Sir Fenton Ramsahoye QC
Sir Fenton Ramsahoye QC

THE EDITOR: Sir Fenton Ramsahoye QC was perhaps the most prolific lawyer the region has ever produced. He was featured as counsel in more than 250 reported cases. This is about five times as many as his closest rivals in the region. He has appeared in numerous unreported cases and has rendered countless opinions to litigants and lawyers throughout the Caribbean.

Space does not permit a review of his contribution to the development of the law. His work in the Privy Council is well known and his book The Development of Land Law in British Guiana remains an authoritative work.

Ramsahoye possessed a most sophisticated intellect. He had a fascinating ability to think and generate original thought. He was a real scholar. He had the ability to grasp and unravel complex legal issues within minutes. His focus was always sharp and he harboured no confusion about the law.

He easily read about 400-500 pages a night. It rarely took him more than a night to read a record of appeal and produce draft written submissions for the highest tribunals. He was one of the very few lawyers from the Caribbean who regularly led arguments in the Privy Council against high-powered English lawyers. He consistently prevailed against them and demonstrated that our people were not inferior.

Sir Fenton Ramsahoye QC in court.

He had a great and unfailing sense of responsibility to his clients and exhibited the highest levels of discipline in his work. He fought on the side of the poor, rarely representing commercial interests. The poor people he represented revered him and were grateful for his commitment to their problems. He was able to connect with them because he cared deeply about their problems. He shared their anxieties.

He could not bear to let injustice pass and would often say to me that the victims of injustice must be made to know that someone was willing to fight on their side to the very end. He gave them hope, which was itself an important form of redress and sometimes the only one they enjoyed. On the many occasions when legal authorities were against us, he would insist on finding a way to secure justice. It was this outlook which led him to pioneer so many changes in the field of constitutional law.

I spent as much time as I could with him over the decade or so I have known him intending that, by doing so, he would cast his mind upon me. But after some time I realised that he was a unique legal genius whom I could not emulate.

He was a key figure in the independence movement in Guyana but was deeply disappointed with the manner in which our societies were being managed after independence. He witnessed the incursion of indiscipline and irresponsibility into the legal systems of the Caribbean but it did not stop him from fighting. He was a tireless fighter and he fought to the very end. It was his genuine belief, after practising throughout the region for more than six decades, that it was the judiciary which did the greatest injury to litigants.

His passion was justice. His method was discipline and hard work. His gift was an extraordinary intellect and a boundless capacity to think and generate ideas. His weakness was his willingness to serve. His duty to society, he has fulfilled. His legacy is his work.

He imparted a great deal to me and for that I owe him much. He was a source of inspiration to many. He shared his learning and experience generously with all. He followed a clear path of service and he was not kept from his path by pursuing lesser goals. His belief was that the poor and oppressed needed to be protected and he became one with that belief. He did good work and for that his happiness in the world hereafter is assured.

He will now rest but not by choice. He would have preferred to continue the struggle but he was taken from this world by a compassionate God. No more could have been asked or expected of him from society. The region may not for a very long time see in a man such intellect, compassion, dedication, integrity, courage, simplicity and humanity.

May his life and work continue to be a shining example to us all.





"Sir Fenton – aunique legal genius"

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