ADDRESS BY LEWIS S HUNTE, QC
Barry Leon J (Ag) (Presiding)
Gerhard Wallbank J (Ag)
Roger Kaye , QC (Ag)
Darsham Ramdhani (Ag)
May it please you, My Lords:
With your permission, I would like first of all to recognise the distinguished gentlemen in the jury box.
[Hon Premier, Governor, Leader of Opposition were in the jury box]
Now, it is an easily verified truism that one cannot say anything until one has something to talk about.
When, therefore, the learned Registrar contacted me last Thursday and asked me to speak this morning,
I agreed; but, honestly, I was not sure about what I was going to say. Then, on Saturday, I asked myself a question:
If we are celebrating fifty years of the existence of Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court which was
constituted by the West Indies Associated States Supreme Court Act, 1967, was there a court in the
Eastern Caribbean before that date? Were there any Chief Justices?
As one who is very interested in legal history, I spent a portion of my week-end doing a bit of research
and I found that there was a Supreme Court of the Windward Islands and Leeward Islands. It comprised
a High Court and Court of Appeal and the rules under which it operated were made by the Chief Justice
with the approval of the Governor of the Windward Islands under an order-in-council dated 20th
December, 1939. The Chief Justice at the time was Sir Wilfred Wigley. Thus, at a time when the rest of
the world was occupied with trying to contain a certain German, this region was building for itself a
judicial system that would withstand the test of the ages.
Let us, however, take a step back in time and we will find that from the year 1706 until the year 1867
the islands of Antigua, St Kitts, Nevis, Dominica and Montserrat each had its own Chief Justice. I will not
list the names of the persons who held those posts but they dated as follows: Antigua in the year
1706, St Kitts in 1717, Nevis in 1731, Dominica in 1790 and Montserrat in 1804. St Lucia was mostly
French and even today its legal system still differs from that of the rest of the Eastern Caribbean.
In 1874, the Leeward Islands, as a group, were granted their own judiciary which also served the
Windward Islands. There were some 15 persons who held the post of Chief Justice of the Leeward
Islands from 1874 till December 1939 when Sir Wilfred Wigley vacated office.
The order-in-council of December 1939 took effect in 1940 and the Chief Justices of the Supreme Court
of the Windward and Leeward Islands were as follows:
James Henry Jarret CJ. (1940- 1942)
Clement Malone C J. (1942-1953)
Sir Donald Jackson (1953 – 1955)
Joseph Littleton Wills CJ. 1955- ?
Sir Cyril George Xavier Henriques ( 1959- 1963).
It is not clear when Wills CJ demitted office but, after his tenure, there were a number of acting
appointments to the post before Sir Cyril Henriques’ tenure.
Sir Cyril was a Jamaican who later became President of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica. I knew him
personally when he was President of the Court of Appeal of Jamaica. He was an outstanding jurist but
could, at times, be a very intolerant judge.
Sir Donald Jackson hailed from British Guiana (now Guyana). I never met him but I have spoken with
many who appeared before him and I am told that the thought of appearing before him caused
experienced lawyers to tremble in their boots. The following dialogue is said to have passed between Sir
Donald and a lawyer who was arguing a point with which the judge did not agree:
Sir Donald: Do you have a library?
Counsel: Yes, Sir. What does Your Lordship mean?
Sir Donald: I was only asking.
After Sir Cyril demitted office to become a Justice of Appeal in the newly independent Jamaica, a
number of persons acted in the position of Chief Justice until 1967. By that time a number of the Islands
were seeking independence and the court was revamped to become the West Indies Associated States
Supreme Court. It was constituted by the West Indies Associated Supreme Court Act, 1967 and that is
what brings us to where we are this morning.
Sir Allen Montgomery Lewis was the first Chief Justice of the newly organised court. He had been a
Justice of Appeal in Jamaica and returned to take up the post of Chief Justice. He was great jurist and, in
Jamaica, lawyers informed me that, whenever he was delivering a judgment in the Court of Appeal,
lawyers would leave the library and sit in court to listen. Sir Allen went on to become Chancellor of the
University of the West Indies.
The name of the Court was changed to the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court by order-in-council in the
year 1983 but the Act that constitutes the court continues to be designated the “West Indies Associated
Supreme Court Act”. Perhaps that anomaly will soon be corrected.
[At this stage, Hunte glances at the Attorney General who whispers that it has now been changed]
I have been advised that the anomaly has now been corrected.
My Lords, the theme of this anniversary is “Celebrating the Past, Embracing the Future”. I am
neither the past nor the future. I regard myself as the present and so, I leave it to my juniors who stand
at the gate of the future to embrace it before they join the passing parade.
We all stand on the shoulders of those that have gone before. There is the story of the lay preacher who
died and, at the Pearly Gates, he asked to see his Rector. The Rector’s name was not to be found.
He was shown the Assistant Curate who had iron balls on his feet and chains on his hands but could still
move. He took the lay preacher through some rooms, each one more murky than the last until he found
the Rector up to his neck in muck and slime.
The lay preacher said: “Rector, is this you?
The Rector replied: “Son, it is torment in this place but I have one consolation which is, I am standing on
the shoulders of my bishop”!
True, we all stand on the shoulder of those who have gone before and we hope that should we meet
them, wherever they are, we will be able to shake their hands and say, “Well done”.