Jan 29, 2017 News
Justice Cecil Kennard has served Guyana and its people for over 50 years in nearly all aspects of
the law, with distinction.
The former Chancellor of the Judiciary and now Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) has traversed the corridors of the Courts with humility, and dignity.
He served his country in the legal arena as Crown Counsel, Police Legal Adviser, Magistrate, Director of Public Prosecutions, Antigua (on secondment), High Court Judge, Justice of Appeal, Chief Justice and his crowning glory – Chancellor of the Judiciary, and now PCA Chairman.
But even after all these years of service to the nation in the legal profession the judge said, “If I were to start from the beginning, I would do it all over again. It has given me great job satisfaction.”
As a child, Kennard read a lot about how lawyers would present cases in Court and dreamt that one day he too would become a successful lawyer. It all started when he wrote an essay in school about what he would like to be when he grew up.
He was able to realize his dreams when in 1959 he left for England to begin his studies in law at the prestigious Lincoln’s Inn.
Justice Kennard was called to the Bar in 1962. Two months later he returned home to set up private practice in Berbice. He was in private practice for three years and in October 1965 appointed a Crown Counsel in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, following Independence in 1966, that position was known as State Counsel.
He then became attached to the DPP Chambers, prosecuting team in the likes of Joaquim Gonsalves-Sabola, (deceased) who later became Chief Justice of The Bahamas; Odel Adams (deceased), who later became Attorney-General of St. Kitts and Nevis; Richard Hector (deceased), who became a QC. in Bermuda; and Jailall Kissoon.
After three years in the DPP Chambers he was appointed as Senior State Counsel. He also served as Police Legal Adviser from 1971-1973 and during this period also acted as a rent assessment Magistrate on a part-time basis in the evenings to help with the backlog of cases.
It was whilst prosecuting a murder case in Berbice that the then young attorney met his wife, Chan, who was at the time working at the Royal Bank of Canada, New Amsterdam.
Later in his career, Kennard travelled to Antigua where he kept Guyana’s flag flying high, having successfully prosecuted every murder case at the time.
His most memorable case was that of Patrick Davis who was charged and subsequently hanged for the murder of the only Queen’s Counsel in the island at that time, and his wife Gwendolyn.
In Antigua he also presented a petition for two young lawyers, Claire Roberts and Conrad Richards, to be admitted to practise at the local bar.
In 1976, some Colombians were arrested for drugs. The amount was the largest heist at that time. The men were charged on the direction of the DPP, Cecil Kennard. They were convicted and the vessel confiscated.
Before he had finished his three-year secondment in Antigua, he was recalled to Guyana in 1977 by Prime Minister Burnham (decd.) to be appointed as a Judge of the High Court.
Having returned to Guyana in November 1977, he was sworn in as a High Court Judge by the late Arthur Chung, Guyana’s first President. As a High Court Judge, he presided over many high-profile cases. In his first murder case, the accused was sentenced to death. The Court of Appeal upheld the death sentence and said that the summing-up was impeccable.
In his first year as a Judge, he also heard the Geological Survey Department fraud case where one Robert Moonsammy was charged. There were over a hundred exhibits, so he had to take his time in sorting them like a jig-saw puzzle.
Moonsammy was found guilty and was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.
Justice Kennard presided over several high-profile criminal cases. In June of 1985, he was appointed a Justice of Appeal. In January 1995 he was appointed Chief Justice – one with a difference, in that he presided in both civil and criminal trials, sat for long hours in the Full Court and did administration, as well.
He did this because of his passion for the law and to have the work done, because he believed that justice delayed is justice denied. He was awarded the Cacique’s Crown of Honour (CCH) in the field of Law and when, in October 1996, was appointed Chancellor of the Judiciary he thought that he had reached the pinnacle of his career.
Serving his country was not yet over, for after a few months’ vacation, he was appointed Chairman, Police Complaints Authority – a different kind of legal work.
When he became Chairman of the Authority, the public hardly knew of the Authority. Due to the lack of work, his predecessor only worked half-days. After the assumption of Justice Kennard to the seat as Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, he appeared on radio and television to enlighten the public about the Authority’s work.
He does not believe that life is about waiting for the storm to pass, instead it is about learning to dance in the rain. He then established outreach programmes across the country to sensitize the public about the role of the Authority and to take complaints against the Police.
He also printed leaflets which he distributed to people on his visits in various places across the country.
On his outreach programmes, he appeared on television where it was possible to host call-in programmes so that people, who would have been reluctant to make complaints against the Police in person, could have called in to air their complaints where advice was given.
Justice Kennard has visited all ten regions of Guyana: places like Mabaruma, Moruca, Port Kaituma, Anna Regina, Charity, Leguan, Vreed-en-Hoop, New Amsterdam, Springlands, Bartica, Linden, Mahdia, Annai and Lethem.
Wherever he went, he would instruct the Police in those divisions as to their role in society and what service they should give to the public – their motto being “Protect and Serve”. He also spoke to the Toshaos whenever they had their conferences so that they could relate to their people in their own language.
His office, situated at 39 Brickdam, is always open to anyone who is desirous of making a complaint against the police. He also lectured frequently to the police at the Police Training School, Eve Leary.
Since his assumption as Chairman of the Police Complaints Authority, he spoke vociferously about having his own investigators instead of having Police investigators from the Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
Even the Chang Commission advised that the Authority should have its own investigators so that the people would have confidence in the Authority. After repeated requests, former Minister Clement Rohee who was Minister of Home Affairs heeded his requests.
As a result there are now four investigators with a few more to be added through an IDB Programme.
Besides his work at the Police Complaints Authority, Justice Kennard sat as Chairman of the Board of Inquiry into the escape of five prisoners from the Georgetown Prison on February 23, 2002.
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