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'A wonderful warrior, a lawyer's lawyer, a scholar ...'

Published:Sunday | July 31, 2011 | 12:00 AM
R.N.A. Henriques

The following is Part 1 of a feature on R.N.A Henriques, one of Jamaica's most seasoned legal minds.

Ken Jones, Contributor

Jamaica has never been short of legal luminaries whose brilliance has made bright the pages of judicial history here, in the courts of England and the sanctum sanctorum of Commonwealth jurisprudence, the Privy Council.

The dossier could, possibly, begin with the masterful Philip Stern, who emerged in the late 19th century and dominated the legal landscape until his retirement in the 1920s. To his luster as a jurist, he added years of distinguished service as an elected member of the legislature; and was several times mayor of Kingston. It was his skilful and unusual advocacy that astonished the country and freed Alexander Bedward when the self-styled prophet was charged for sedition and ordered confined to the lunatic asylum in 1895.

The spotlight shifted from Stern to the celebrated Norman Manley, who began practising in 1922. The stories of his triumphs in the courts are legendary, and his towering reputation and glowing achievements have tended to eclipse even the brightest of legal stars who have shone since his time. The competence of such great practitioners of the past as James Alexander George Smith, Harvey DaCosta, Ian Ramsay and Vivian Blake are often judged against the benchmarks set by Manley.

Talented professional

One of the talented professionals in today's legal circles is Roald Henriques, who, on the forty-second anniversary of his legal practice, was described by the Jamaica Bar Association as "A wonderful warrior, a lawyer's lawyer, a scholar..." The Association in acknowledging his brilliant contribution to the legal profession said:

"He has charted a course of development in our jurisprudence and that of the wider Caribbean region. He has appeared on behalf of the Grenadian Government before the Eastern Caribbean Court of Appeal on questions relating to interpretation of the Constitution and the status of civil servants in connection with the rights to pension funds. He has appeared in court in the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, and The Bahamas. He spent many years before the Grand Court of Cayman and the Court of Appeal, conducting complex commercial litigation on behalf of international, insurance and banking entities. He has rendered several opinions in complicated trans-border transactions and is indubitably recognised internationally as a scholar in commercial law..."

Roald was born in September 1934, son of A.L.G. Henriques, a barrister-at-law. He attended Kingston College (KC) in the days when the legendary Percival Gibson led the teaching staff and gave instruction as history master. Roald had a distinguished career at KC. In his last year at that venerable institution, Bishop Gibson announced in the chapel one morning, "I do not know to what this school is coming when we have a chap in the upper sixth form taking Higher School Certificate next week and cannot spell his name."

The whole school wondered who that backward student might be; and the puzzle was soon answered when Henriques got back his history essay with a large red 'n' added to his name so that it read 'Ronald'. There followed a meeting between master and student, at which it was stated that Henriques had been deliberately named after the Norwegian Roald Amundsen who had made history in 1911 being the first person to lead an Antarctic expedition and to reach both the North and South Poles. He is also known as the first to traverse the Northwest Passage. Given this explanation, the lordly headmaster capitulated; and the student smiled his satisfaction, although to this day his unusual name continues to be the source of widespread curiosity.

From KC, Henriques went on to begin his long association with legal matters when, in 1954, he was appointed assistant clerk of courts at the Half-Way Tree Resident Magistrate's Court. In 1956 he left for England to read law at London University, where he later obtained the Bachelor's degree. He got the Master of Law degree in 1961 and was called to the Bar at Lincoln's Inn on November 1 of that year.

Henriques was admitted to practise in Jamaica on the January 2, 1962, doing his early work in the chambers of such illustrious practitioners as Vivian Blake, Harvey DaCosta and Raymond Alberga. He was also inspired and influenced by other great lawyers including Derek Stone and Bruce Barker. When the profession was merged in 1972, he joined the firm of Livingston, Alexander and Levy as a partner, and is still there as a senior advocate.

In 1981 Henriques was called to the Inner Bar, and throughout the ensuing years his appetite for knowledge and increased skills resulted in the development of an analytic mind, as well as a keen understanding of other disciplines including economics, historical texts and autobiographies. Some of his colleagues say that he could be in the boardroom advising mainly on mergers and acquisitions, but for his great passion for the trial process. It is in this field that he has excelled and earned his outstanding reputation.

Henriques has featured in many of Jamaica's landmark lawsuits, several of them having far-reaching consequences. The 1999 case of Air Jamaica vs Charlton was a matter of great public interest, and impacted directly on the way pension scheme surpluses are now handled in Jamaica. Prior to the 1980s, it was unusual for occupational pension schemes to amass surpluses. However, this situation changed with the introduction of high interest rates which allowed for large surpluses and, inevitably, led to legal issues concerning entitlement to and distribution of these funds.

In divesting Air Jamaica, the Government used the pension fund surpluses of its employees to clear some of the airline's debts, and gave an undertaking that if money was required it would repay. The dismissed staff brought court action against this move; contending that the scheme be wound up, and that they were entitled to the surplus. The company retained Henriques along with Basil Parker and Angela Fowler. They held the view that the pension scheme was void as the trust deed infringed the 'rule against perpetuities'.

Reversed decision

The learned judge, after hearing submissions by the attorney general representing the Government, ruled that neither the employees nor the company should get the surpluses, which should go to the Government. There was an appeal by the company, and the employees and the Court of Appeal, by majority vote, ordered that the money taken out by the Government should be refunded and the surplus distributed in accordance with the trust deed.

The matter was taken to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which reversed the decision of the Court of Appeal and upheld Henriques' original view that the scheme was void for infringing the perpetuities rule. The Privy Council accepted that there was a resulting trust, as contended by the company, and that the surplus in the fund should be equally divided between the company and the employees. This landmark decision concerning occupational pension schemes is now quoted in every textbook on pension schemes.

See more next Sunday