Cecil Claude Kennard, O.R., is a ‘Special Person’
“I always feel that one should give back to society and not keep all
their knowledge to themselves.”
By Rawle Welch
Despite handing down some of the toughest decisions a Judge could ever make, retired Chancellor of the Judiciary and current Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) Cecil Claude Kennard, O.R. is by no means a mean-spirited, unapproachable and unhelpful individual, instead he is totally the opposite.
The fourth child, born to Charles and Stella Kennard of Bush Lot, Corentyne, Berbice, he developed into one of the most unassuming, polite and accommodating practitioners in the legal profession and according to him, this has been his demeanour throughout his tenure in the legal system.
A vastly experienced jurist, Chancellor Kennard has passed through the ranks of the legal framework; serving with distinction in all areas to which he was assigned and rightly deserves to be classified as a ‘Special Person’.
His father, a Land Proprietor, owned an estate at Bush Lot where he cultivated rice and reared cattle, while he (Cecil) received his primary education at the Kildonan Church of Scotland School, before attending the Berbice High School.
There he successfully completed his General Certificate of Education Examinations and subsequently taught for four years at both his old Primary School and the Rose Hall Church of Scotland Primary School.
All this time young Kennard had harboured thoughts of becoming a lawyer, and in 1959 left for England to read law at the prestigious Lincoln’s Inn and was subsequently called to the Bar in that same country three years later.
However, his yearning to come back home and serve saw him return in 1962 to open his own private practice in his hometown of Berbice after receiving permission to do so.
He was admitted by the distinguished Chief Justice at the time Sir Lionel Luckhoo and his petition was presented by Senior Counsel C. Lloyd Luckhoo. He practiced for three years in the Ancient County.
However, on October 1, 1965, an event occurred that would disrupt his original ambition and change his life forever.
He was appointed State Counsel in the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and that was the turning point in his illustrious career in the legal fraternity.
“When I first begun as a lawyer my idea was to remain in practice and help contribute to the jurisprudence in this country. It was never my intention to join the legal service I just wanted to do my private practice. However, for some reason or the other, the late Mahendranauth Poonai, an Attorney-at-Law was the one who suggested that I offer my services to the State for a period, but having served, I eventually fell in love with being in the legal service. During that time, there were two positions vacant, one for a Magistrate and the other for a State Counsel. Fortunately for me, I would say, someone else got the job in the Magistracy and I got the other, and in hindsight, I’m glad that I did get it.”
Kennard said that prosecuting helps build your confidence and makes you a very good advocate.
After just three years in the DPP’s Chambers, he was appointed a Senior State Counsel in April 1968, during which time he served as a Legal Adviser to the Police Force on many occasions.
Kennard’s climb up the legal ladder continued during the period 1971-75 when he acted as a rent-assessment Magistrate on a part-time basis.
Commenting on his notable career as a State Prosecutor, Kennard said that the 1971 Kitty Royal Bank robbery and murder was among the highlights.
He recalled the names of the accused Yadunauth, Kirpal Sukhdeo and Dhanpaul Kanhai, who were all charged with the murder of the messenger of the Bank, Percival.
“That trial lasted two months and at its conclusion, all of them were convicted, but one was freed on the account of an appeal. I remember that trial because of the lengthy period it took and the fact that the outstanding JOF Haynes, SC, led the defence team and it was not easy to accomplish such a feat against him,” Kennard recalled.
He said that the case took on such importance that they were required to work over the Christmas holidays to arrive at a verdict.
He was seconded by the then Government of Guyana to Antigua & Barbuda in 1975 on the recommendation of Sir Lionel Luckhoo to serve as the Director of Public Prosecutions for an agreed three years.
“He had requested that I be approached and I willingly agreed on the grounds that my service will not be broken.”
Kennard left for the island, but was recalled before the time expired to take up an appointment as acting High Court Judge, replacing Kenneth George, who had been chosen as a Justice of Appeal.
Reflecting on his stint in Antigua, Kennard disclosed that he successfully prosecuted every murder case (14 of them) on the island, including an unforgettable one that involved a gardener by the name of Patrick Davis, who was indicted for the double-murder of a husband and wife.
According to Kennard, Rowan Henry, the only Queen’s Counsel on the island at the time and his wife had hired Davis as a gardener and he attacked Mrs. Henry following a dispute over wages, and it was at this point that her husband intervened and they both were killed. Kennard successfully prosecuted the case and Davis was hanged for the murders.
He added that it also provided him with the opportunity to get more acquainted with his peers in the Caribbean and more importantly gain valuable experience.
Kennard served in the High Court of Guyana from November 1977-85 receiving promotion to Justice of Appeal in the process.
Several high profile cases engaged his attention during that tenure, among them being the State versus Balkarran, Singh and others who were charged with the murder of wealthy rice farmer Beni Persaud of Esau and Jacob, Mahaicony, East Coast Demerara.
He said the men had entered the home of Persaud and killed him, taking away a chest containing a large quantity of jewellery.
Five persons were charged with the robbery and murder, but four were convicted, while one, John Lawrence, was freed.
“That case stood out to me because the defence of the accused varied and the law had to be carefully elucidated to the jury because it was diverse in relation to each. Also, there were several voir dires to determine the admissibility of the statements made by some of the accused. When the appeals of four of the five accused were dismissed, all three Judges who sat in the Appeal congratulated me for the way I had conducted the trial and I will always remember that.”
Kennard also spoke of his first case as a lawyer, “it was a traffic offence and the evidence was so overwhelming that I told the client to enter a plea of guilty and the Magistrate ordered a reprimand and discharge. It was a clear case of guilt.”
From June 1985- January 1995 Kennard served in the Court of Appeal and was appointed Chief Justice. Then in 1996, he reached the highest point of his career when he became Chancellor of the Judiciary.
“That was the high point of my legal life when I was appointed the Chancellor and it is an aspiration that most have in the legal profession.” He, however, did say that life in the legal profession like any other field of endeavour is not always smooth sailing and he recalled the contentious ‘swearing in’ of President Janet Jagan after the 1997 elections.
“I came in for harsh criticisms then, but I was just doing what was required of me as the Chancellor. The law states that if the Chairman of the Elections Commission declares a person as President, I am required by law to swear in that individual. It is not for me to say whether the votes were counted right or wrong. I didn’t question the Chairman nor did I know that anything was amiss until afterwards and I felt betrayed by the Chairman.”
He, however, disputed the claim that the ceremony was done in secrecy, stating that many persons were there at the time.
Commenting on the throwing of a writ over her shoulders, Kennard said that at the time he was not aware that Mrs. Jagan had done that, adding that it was not a right thing for her to do.
“I was in total disagreement when I eventually recognised what she had done because it was a legal document that was properly served by the Marshal.”
The soft-spoken legal mind has had the opportunity of swearing in three Presidents during his career as Chancellor, those being Mrs. Jagan, Samuel Hinds and Bharrat Jagdeo (twice).
Chancellor Kennard, who left the Judiciary to take up the post of Chairman of the PCA in 2002, spoke of his good fortune working under some great individuals such as Victor Crane, JOF Haynes, Keith Massiah and Kenneth George, who according to him were all exceptional jurists.
He mentioned JOF Haynes, SC and Joaquim Gonsalves-Sabola, SC, as the two men he admired most in the legal profession.
“When I entered the legal business, from day one, JOF Haynes was the person I most admired. Even when I was against him in court I found him to be very courteous and he never made things difficult for me. He would not ridicule you even if you were found to be inadequate on any aspect of the law so he really helped boost my confidence as a young practitioner at the time. Gonsalves-Sabola was more of a mentor to me, we worked in the DPP Chambers when I was a young Crown Counsel and he assisted me greatly during that period. I always sought his opinion in relation to any legal problem which confronted me.”
The legal luminary, whose family holds the sole distinction of having three recipients of the Cacique Crown of Honour (himself, brother Charles, who was the Chairman of the Guyana Rice Board and uncle Gavin, a former Director of Agriculture) in comparing the current state of affairs in the legal system with that of his time, said that there are many distinct differences.
“During my time there wasn’t that much back-biting; judges and lawyers used to assist each other, while Magistrates and Judges today are not being supported by their seniors. My impression is that not much help is forthcoming, but perhaps some of them do not want to take advice.”
He mentioned the lack of camaraderie within the profession.
“I could recall, judges would come to my Chambers and ask if I needed any advice and that was a good thing, since it is always better to have a second opinion. Discussion is very important and it doesn’t appear to be happening right now.”
He advised young lawyers to continue to work hard because there is always room at the top; to be courteous to their colleagues and never feel that they know all the law in the world. Kennard said it is important for them to discuss their legal matters with others and he is willing to offer for free legal advice on the way forward.
“I always feel that one should give back to society and not keep all their knowledge to themselves.”
Explaining his current job, Kennard disclosed that it entails receiving complaints from members of the public on alleged police excesses and having them investigated.
“If when we investigate we find that the allegations are true I could then recommend disciplinary action be taken against the perpetrators which could either be punitive or criminal charges.” Kennard indicated that even though the office is based in Georgetown, he travels extensively to hear complaints and also sensitise residents in the outlying areas about the functions of the Authority.
“I also meet members of the Force and discuss matters of concern to me and so far I’ve visited all the Regions, except region 8, which I intend to do during the first quarter of this year.”
However, Kennard is not just work and no play; rather, he was actively involved in cricket during his student days in England and is an avid lover of horse racing until now.
“I played some amount of cricket in Guyana, Suriname and England, but somehow cannot resist the alluring excitement of horse racing.
“It is in my blood, the Kennard Memorial Turf Club that hosts a lot of Race Meetings is a plot of land that was donated to the village by my family.”
He reflected on the days when he walked barefeet and swam in the trenches around the village, adding that there were no racial problems then, everybody was closely knitted and lived like family.
Kennard is also the recipient of the Order of Roraima, which he received in 1997, for his sterling contributions to the legal profession. Chancellor Kennard’s union with his wife Nadia whom he fondly refers to as Chan, has borne one son, Gary, who is a Civil Engineer and resides in England.
Kennard also holds important posts in many organisations such as Director of the Berbice Bridge, Trustee of the Georgetown Cricket Club and member of the National Sports Commission among others.
Chancellor Kennard concluded that he has had a glittering career, having passed through many stages with no regrets and if he had the opportunity to do it all over again, the choice would be the same.
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