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Prominent Queen's Counsel Karl Hudson-Phillips was remembered yesterday as a powerful luminary, a classy politician and a larger-than-life character who dominated the political and legal landscape during his distinguished career. He was a former attorney general and a former judge of the International Criminal Court and was awarded the country’s highest honour, the Order of the Republic of T&T, in 2010. The tributes came in after Hudson-Phillips, 80, passed away peacefully in his sleep in the United Kingdom on Wednesday. He was reportedly there to attend a birthday celebration for his son. The news of his passing made regional headlines, including being reported in the Jamaica Observer and Grenada’s SpiceIslander TalkShop, which posted brief details of his passing from as early as 7 am yesterday.
Hudson-Phillips’ sudden death plunged the legal fraternity into mourning, however, and many senior attorneys yesterday could not come to terms with the fact that he was gone for good.
President of the Law Association Seenath Jairam, SC, described Hudson-Phillips as a powerful “legal luminary and an outstanding and formidable advocate,” whose career spanned over 50 years at the local and regional bars.“He was a mentor, friend and benefactor to countless junior counsel/attorneys around the region. He will be sorely missed,” Jairam said. While they were close colleagues, Jairam was chastised by Hudson-Phillips in 2012 for accepting a Clico brief from the Ministry of Finance, along with junior counsel Joseph Toney and Jagdeo Singh. Hudson-Phillips had also called on Jairam to step down as president of the association.
Former chief justice Sat Sharma said yesterday said he was “absolutely flabbergasted” by Hudson-Phillips’ death. “A former judge called me this morning (yesterday) to tell me my very good friend had died. I cannot believe it ... I still cannot believe it now, because when I last spoke to him he was fine. He was in excellent health,” Sharma added. Saying he had spoken to Hudson-Phillips some three weeks ago, Sharma said Hudson-Phillips was seeking information about he book he was writing. “I would call the book an autobiography and he promised to give me a copy when he had finished it,” Sharma recalled. “I don’t think he would have completed it, because he wanted to find out information about events during his early career.” Senior Counsel Israel Khan, who is also chairman of the Legal Aid and Advisory Authority, said Hudson-Phillips, a former president of the Law Association, did not think twice about helping young attorneys. “He even helped me. He was my mentor. Whenever I found myself in difficulty in relation to the law or carrying out my duties I would go to him and he would guide me,” Khan said. “Incidentally, it was just yesterday evening (Wednesday) the authority appointed him to lead sessions to train attorneys on how to present a case with the criminal courts.”
Former chief justice and president of the ICC, Michael de la Bastide, said the death was quite unexpected. He said: “I want to express my condolence to his wife and children. He was a person who held a number of important offices and made a significant contribution to the legal profession and to the country as a whole. He was also a distinguished legal practitioner who was well respected.” To the very end, Hudson-Phillips, in keeping abreast of major events in society, often challenged the status quo when he felt things were going astray, often grabbing newspaper headlines in the process. In October last year, for example, he had hinted at possible legal action challenging the validity of the Police Service Commission (PSC), if Parliament confirmed President Anthony Carmona’s nomination of former independent senator James Armstrong and Roamar Achat-Saney to the commission. The three received their letters in appointment last December and there was no challenge to the appointments.
CJ: Formidable figure
In a release yesterday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie, on behalf of the Judiciary, also lauded Hudson-Phillips. “Karl Hudson-Phillips QC undertook the practice of the law with gusto and considerable skill and was a formidable figure on all fronts of the profession, be it in defence or prosecutorial roles,” a release from Jones P Madeira, Court Protocol and Information Manager, said. It noted that Hudson-Phillips’s triumphs before the courts included many matters which can be regarded as landmark cases. “The Honourable Chief Justice wishes to extend his condolences to the Hudson-Phillips family, on his own behalf and that of all of the Judiciary, on the occasion of this quite unexpected passing. “The Judiciary joins the law fraternity, and indeed the entire national community, in mourning the death of Mr Karl Hudson Phillips, Queens Counsel.” The release said during his lifetime, Hudson-Phillips provided yeoman service to the country and later became a judge of the International Criminal Court, paving the way for greater and very positive international scrutiny and recognition of the quality of local jurists. “The courts and the practice of law have lost a significant presence. The Judiciary salutes this legal luminary and his impressive record.” The release also noted that Hudson-Phillips’s sojourn outside his main professional calling was equally impactive and contributed to significant changes to the political landscape of T&T.
Hudson-Phillips was lead counsel in the Grenadian murder trials resulting from the assassination of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop in October 1983. Among his successful prosecutions were those of Naresh Boodram, Joey Ramiah and Michael “Rat” Maharaj for the murders of Anthony “Tooks” Greenidge and Stephen “Bulls” Sandy. He led the defence for Seeromani Maraj-Naraynsingh, who was accused of wanting Dr Chandra Naraynsingh, wife of Prof Vijay Naraynsingh, dead. Maraj-Naraynsingh is Prof Naraynsingh’s second wife. The professor, Maraj-Naraynsingh and San Fernando businessman Elton Ramasir went on trial for Chandra’s murder. Again in his role as a defence attorney, Hudson-Phillips represented former government Minister Dhanraj Singh, who was described as the mastermind in the shooting death of UNC councillor Hansraj Sumairsingh. Singh, who was acquitted, died in 2011.
He also led the prosecution’s case in the preliminary inquiry into murder charges brought against 11 men charged for the murder of Xtra Foods CEO Vindra Naipaul-Coolman. Hudson-Phillips was selected to lead the State’s murder and treason case against the Jamaat al Muslimeen before they were pardoned by the then acting President Emmanuel Carter. While he was attorney general, he prosecuted Abdul “Michael X” Malick for the Arima murder of British socialite Gail-Ann Benson. In February 2003, Hudson-Phillips was elected to the first ever bench of International Criminal Court (ICC) judges. As "dean of the judges," he chaired the first meetings of judges before the election of the presidency. He also contributed actively to the drafting of the regulations of the court. He resigned from the court for personal reasons on March 14, 2007. He read law at Selwyn College, Cambridge and in 1959 he was called to the bar at Gray's Inn, London. He returned to T&T, where he established a distinguished legal practice and was appointed Queen's Counsel in 1970.
Hudson-Phillips was a PNM MP from 1966 to 1976, and between 1969 and 1973 he served as attorney general and minister of legal affairs. He was associated with the notorious Public Order Act, which was proposed by the PNM government in response to the Black Power riots and army mutiny of 1970. For his hand in this law, he was immortalised in the song Ah Fraid Karl in 1972 by the Dr Hollis “Mighty Chalkdust” Liverpool. In 1973 he fell out of favour with Prime Minister Eric Williams, whom he planned to challenge as PNM leader. In 1974 Hudson-Phillips founded the National Land Tenants and Ratepayers’ Association. In 1981 his Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR), which he had founded in 1980, contested the 1981 general election, but did not win a single seat despite getting the second-highest number of votes. The ONR formed an accommodation with the National Alliance to contest the 1983 local government elections and merged with it to form the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR). The NAR won 33 of the 36 seats in the 1986 general election, but Hudson-Phillips played no further role in the party.
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