Fallen legal giants remembered during St James Circuit Court
Friday’s opening of the Michaelmas session of the St James Circuit Court was a sombre affair as heartfelt tributes were paid to three attorneys and a judge who have died within recent times after many years of service to the judicial system in western Jamaica.
During her opening remarks at the start of the sitting, presiding High Court Justice Stephanie Jackson-Haisley called for a moment of silence to be observed in honour of Judge Horace Mitchell and attorneys Ernie Smith, Roy Fairclough, and Henry Charles Johnson.
“We are working within troubled times, and since the last time we were here, three members of the private Bar who practised in this jurisdiction have passed. Then, just this morning [Thursday], we heard of the passing of a judge, and it has brought home how careful we need to be,” Jackson-Haisley said prior to the moment of silence.
“Mr Smith was here during the last sitting of the Circuit Court, and although he did not look his usual self, we would not have imagined that he would not be here. Also, we knew Mr Fairclough well, and it is important that we observe his passing,” Jackson-Haisley added. “For Mr Johnson and His Honour Mr Mitchell, we should acknowledge their contribution to the legal profession.”
Attorney Trevor Ho Lyn, speaking on behalf of the Cornwall Bar Association, remembered his fellow lawyers for their various contributions to courtroom procedure.
“Mr Fairclough was, frankly, the attorney to be most emulated in terms of his courtroom practice, and Mr Smith was likewise quite a character. Mr Johnson did not practise quite a lot in the Circuit Court, but he is another stalwart, and it is unfortunate as to the way he transitioned,” said a subdued Ho Lyn.
“It is so unusual that in such a short space of time, you have such persons in leadership passing on. It causes some of us to reflect in a particular way as you never know when we will see the last of each other,” Ho Lyn added.
Fairclough, a well-known legal figure with his practice based in downtown Montego Bay, died on August 17 at the Montego Bay Hospital in Mt Salem, St James, following a period of illness. He had practised law since 1975 and was a long-time member of the Cornwall Bar Association.
Johnson, an attorney with 26 years’ experience who had suffered a stroke, died the same day as Fairclough at an undisclosed location. His death came under controversial circumstances as his common-law wife, Robyn Patrick, had previously filed a suit against Superintendent Aaron Fletcher of the Constant Spring Police Station and the attorney general arising from Johnson’s alleged forced removal from their St Andrew home by armed policemen and his daughter on August 6.
The following day, August 18, Smith died at the University Hospital of the West Indies after a year-long battle with cancer. He had formerly served as the member of Parliament for St Ann South West.
Judge Mitchell, who was assigned to the St Elizabeth Parish Court and had previously served that court as a clerk of court in 1982, died from COVID-19 complications at the Mandeville Regional Hospital on Thursday. His death came one month after the passing of the former senior parish judge for St Ann, Stanley Clarke, who also died from COVID-19.