…urged to be humble, uphold their noble profession
THE four newly appointed Senior Counsel, Kalam Azad Juman-Yassin, Josephine Whitehead, Fitz Peters and Andrew Pollard, were on Friday admitted to the inner bar by the full court of the Supreme Court of Judicature.
Their petitions were read by Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams SC., before a packed courtroom of well-wishers, lawyers, former judges, magistrates, family and friends. At the Special Sitting of the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Judicature, Williams SC. recounted the life and work of each of the newly appointed Senior Counsel.
He told the Court that Yassin, who studied law in London, was called to the English Bar in 1970 and admitted to the local bar the following year. Williams SC. said the former Chief Magistrate practised at all levels of the local court before embarking on private practice.
He was appointed Chief Magistrate in 1992, and served in that capacity for five years, following which he returned to private practice. He has been actively involved in sports over the years.
Whitehead, who holds British and Guyanese nationalities, has been in the field of law since 1979. She has practised here, as well as in England, and has been active in the sporting arena and in environmental conservation.
Currently, she holds the positions of Director of the Guyana Legal Aid Clinic, and Vice-Chair of the non-governmental organisation (NGO), Help and Shelter.
A former clerk of the Deeds Registry in the late 1960s, Peters was admitted into practice in 1981. He has served extensively at the Attorney-General’s Chambers, and is a member of the Linden Legal Aid Centre.
Pollard was admitted to practice in 1987, and is attached to the law firm, Hughes, Fields and Stoby. Williams noted that Pollard, a former student of Queens College, specialises in contract law, and has significant experience in the field of mining and oil and gas.
In January 2017, after a 20-year hiatus, President David Granger elevated nine legal luminaries to the status of senior counsel and has since pledged to ensure that these honours are conferred annually. This year’s quartet represents the second batch of lawyers to ascend to the position of Senior Counsel.
Williams SC.’s petitions were accepted by Acting Chief Justice, Roxane George-Wiltshire. Following the acceptance of petitions, the four legal luminaries were called to change their robes, and to take their places at the inner bar.
TIME HAS COME
Meanwhile, Ralph Ramkarran SC. welcomed the quartet to the inner bar, saying: “The time has now arrived for them to take their place among the leaders of our profession.”
Ramkarran SC. outlined the history of being admitted to the inner bar, and the concept of “taking silk”. He said the appointment of Senior Counsel remains an honour that is cherished, and is the only profession in the Commonwealth that is so honoured by the state. It is for this reason that the State’s role has been treated with caution, he opined.
Ramkarran SC. noted, too, that the newly-admitted Senior Counsel bring unique experiences to the bar, as two of them were educated in England, while the others were educated in the Caribbean. He said the nature of their practice and experiences varies, and if maintained is great for the legal profession.
“The pool of Senior Counsel, therefore, would be enriched,” he stated as he welcomed the quartet.
Similarly, Robin Stoby SC., who spoke on behalf of the Guyana Bar Association, congratulated the quartet, and noted that their admittance to the inner bar is part of a ceremony which celebrates the upper echelon of the legal profession.
He noted that the appointments and admission come at a time when the profession is “grappling with the new culture of civil proceedings,” which he posited forces lawyers to relook at “our practice of law and our relationship with our clients.”
Stoby SC. Noted, too, that leadership is required, as young lawyers seek guidance, knowledge and experience from the inner bar. Like Ramkarran SC., Stoby SC. outlined the history of receiving silk. He also estimated that there are 350 lawyers in Guyana, of which the current members of the inner bar including the newly appointed senior counsel constitute approximately 25 persons.
“Mathematics tells me that is a proportion of approximately 7.2 per cent,” he stated, while noting that Guyana appointed last year its first three women as Senior Counsel, namely, Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire, Justice (ret’d) Claudette Singh, and Registrar of Lands, Rosalie Robertson.
Josephine Whitehead was Friday admitted to the inner bar. “Congratulations to the women in our profession who have at last received recognition,” said Stoby SC.
Meanwhile, the attorney said the appointment of silk here has been occurring since 1980, and noted that while the method of appointment has changed over the years, the basis on which it is done has not.
“A person held to be worthy of such honour should be one who upholds the dignity of the profession, well recognised by his or her fellows, has shown merit and distinction in the conduct of their profession, and independent in thought and practice,” he stated as examples.
The newly-appointed Senior Counsel, in response to their acceptance to the inner bar, thanked their families, friends and loved ones, as well as President David Granger and Attorney-General Williams. Juman-Yassin expressed disappointment at the halt in the appointment of Senior Counsel by the previous administration.
“I can’t fathom why appointments were not made in the past,” he remarked early in his response, while expressing gratitude.
He said he has been very fortunate to have worked with the late JOF Haynes, and cautioned young lawyers to be professional.
“Respect the bench always, be courteous to the bench, be punctual…and the bench should reciprocate,” said Juman-Yassin, SC., who also called for the tradition of bowing by both the bar and bench to be upheld. He, like his colleagues, thanked his family and friends for their love and support over the years.
Whitehead, in a simple but impactful response, told the Full Court that while she considered herself fortunate for being born to middle-class parents, she does not take for granted the efforts and sacrifices made by her colleagues in their journey.
She thanked her partner, Henry Jeffrey, and their daughter. “I’ve been very lucky,” she said, noting that she has worked for over 40 years with the Cameron and Shepherd Law firm. She called on members of the bar to focus more on advocating for human rights.
Whitehead SC. made specific reference to access to justice, gender equality, and child abuse among other human rights issues. Lawyers, she noted, have an ethical responsibility to advocate for human rights.
Fitz Peters SC. outlined his career as an attorney, and spoke of his journey from being a teacher, former clerk of the Deeds Registry in the late 1960s, and then working in the Attorney-General’s chambers. He thanked all those who have lent him support over the years.
Meanwhile, Andrew Pollard, in his response, thanked God, his wife, whom he described as his “rock of support”, his children and parents. He said that lawyers, upon admittance to the bar, should continue to learn the law, for their journey has only just begun. He stressed that continuing legal education is critical to the profession.
That aside, Pollard SC. said there is a lack of humility among those in the profession, and that he hopes that lawyers strive to be more humble. He, like Juman-Yassin, urged professional behaviour from lawyers, and cautioned that they uphold the ethics of the legal profession.
Chief Justice (ag) Roxane George-Wiltshire said the quartet’s appointment to senior counsel and admission to the bar represents their hard work over a collective period of over 152 years.
She said receiving silk is an internationally recognised mark of quality, and called on junior counsel to appreciate the importance of such ceremonies, so they can aspire to such heights within the profession. The Chief Justice (ag) said it is important for lawyers to aspire to be diligent, astute. “Such lawyers understand the importance of research, sound and erudite submissions before the court; they are the exemplars of our noble profession.”
Justice George-Wiltshire SC. noted too that there is a symbiotic relationship between the bench and the bar and reminded that it is the responsibility of the bar is ably assist the bench in dispensing justice. She called on all Senior Counsel to mentor Junior Counsel.
Meanwhile, acting Chancellor, Justice Cummings-Edwards told the astute body of lawyers that they should never stop working hard.
“Give your best as you serve the people of Guyana; be mentors, role models and exemplars. I look forward to your rich contributions,” the Chancellor stated.