Howard Hamilton, QC, is one of Jamaica's most noted criminal defence attorneys-at-law. 'Born to Defend', chronicles the highs and lows of a brilliant 50-year legal career in advocacy, which takes him across the 14 parishes of the island as well as the wider Caribbean. Sophisticated and urbane, yet compassionate and sincere, Hamilton recounts some of his most memorable cases with honesty, humility and humour including extracts from his 73 consecutive acquittals partnership with Patrick Atkinson, QC, (currently Jamaica's Attorney General).
I can vividly remember the afternoon when I was invited by Mr Ian Ramsay to sit in on a conference with Dr Floyd Coard of California, who turned out to be the brother of Mr Bernard Coard, former deputy prime minister of Grenada. Mr Bernard Coard, along with other members of the Cabinet, had been charged with the murder of Prime Minister Maurice Bishop and other senior officials.
This meeting was to become the start of the longest legal assignment I was ever to undertake, because the final pages of that case were not going to be written until 23 years later. I recall at the conclusion of the conference Mr Ramsay's position was one of cautious reservation, because at three previous Christmas office luncheons he had announced his intention to retire, yet, although realising that this case could be a case of considerable duration, not even he could have then believed that he would never live to see its conclusion.
After several other meetings with Dr Coard, he undertook the case, with the clear understanding that he would not physically participate in the proposed preliminary enquiry, but would only enter when the matter came for trial in the Grenada Supreme Court. I was invited by him to lead a team of lawyers of my choosing on that exercise. I selected for that mission Ms Norma Linton, Mr A.J. Nicholson, Mr Earl Witter, Mr Glen Cruickshank, and Mr Delano Harrison. Mrs Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Mr Maurice Frankson, having already been invited by relatives of some of the defendants, were already on the ground. Mr Ramsay was eventually retained on behalf of Mr Bernard Coard and his wife, Mrs Phyllis Coard, while the remaining defendants were provided with other Jamaican counsel by the Government of Grenada. Unconfirmed information was that the Government of Grenada attempted to secure the services of other counsel of the region but found no takers.
On the17th day of June, 1984, I, and with me, the aforementioned members of my team, arrived in St Georges, Grenada, and booked into a small hotel, interestingly, by the name of Hamilton's Inn. We were destined to stay at several other places of residence during our involvement in the case, and, finally, at the Coyaba Hotel. Our initial experience during the first period of our stay was one of high tension because we were operating in an occupied country. Freedom of movement was restricted in many areas, including the prison at Richmond Hill, where our clients were housed. So oppressive were opportunities afforded for interviews, with armed soldiers standing within earshot, and precise visiting hours being laid down.
So severe were the restrictions that the clients, for example, were not allowed writing implements and materials. As a result, we were compelled to file a Constitutional Motion demanding basic visiting conditions and material, as well as the right to have security personnel in sight but out of earshot, and we had to threaten to withdraw our services before those conditions were met by agreement with the Prosecution.