ON Thursday, 18th December 2014 at about 9:00 a.m., a Special Sitting was held in honour of the late Hilford Deterville to pay tribute to his life at the courthouse building on Peynier Street, Castries. This is the second part of the article.
The outgoing President of the Bar Association of Saint Lucia, Mr. Andie George gave his speech after the Senior Magistrate, Her Hon. Mrs. Christine Phulchere. He started by reading a message from Sir Dennis Byron, President of the Caribbean Court of Justice in which His Lordship stated Mr. Deterville was a man of honour, served his country in many ways and that the legal fraternity would miss him.
Born on 26th August 1944, Hilford Deterville attended St. Mary’s College, then returned to teach Mathematics. He received First Class Honours degree in Economics and Mathematics from the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus in Jamaica. He was a Statistician in Saint Lucia and worked with a regional development agency, as well as the OECS as an Economist before he started his legal studies at the newly established University of the West Indies (UWI). He was one of the first students in 1973 to graduate from the university. He was a proud UWI graduate, having studyed at all three campuses.
Many attorneys subsequently interned with Hilford Deterville including Dexter Theodore, Cynthia Combie-Martyr, Stephen Julien, and Gillian French. His was the first law firm to be fully computerized in Saint Lucia. Mr. Deterville recommended an online service for lawyers’ use involving the Land Registry, to do searches etc. ( searchable computer database). Mr. George hoped that this would eventually be realised.
Throughout his legal career, Mr. Deterville was involved in many organisations including Bank of Saint Lucia; Saint Lucia Seamen Waterfront and General Workers’ Union as its President; President of the Bar Association of Saint Lucia; and the Saint Lucia Labour Party, serving with distinction as President of the Senate from 1997 to 2006. In his latter years, he took pride in his backyard farm at his residence in Cap Estate. Mr. George remembered Mr. Deterville as always jovial and ultimately as a man of principle.
Ms Gillian French interned and worked with Hilford Deterville for a few years at the beginning of her career. She indicated that he wanted her to be an advocate, and that her last time on her feet was in 1998 before the late Justice Suzie D’Auvergne. She described him as a good trade unionist and a brilliant attorney.
Ms. French shared some lessons that she learnt from her mentor and friend, Hilford Deterville:
1) 60/40 rule in litigation: Do not take a case unless you have at least a 60% chance of success.
2) The value of preparation: Do not waste the client’s money or time. He always used to say that the deed (mortgage, deed of sale etc) must tell the story.
3) Ask probing questions: Ms. French said that she loved writing opinions, she was not going to be an advocate, but according to Mr. Deterville one still needed this skill to understand the client’s needs even when preparing a will or deed.
4) The tail must not wag the dog: The client is to provide the facts of the case ONLY. They cannot legally advise you on how to conduct the case, even when the client IS A LAWYER. His advice was simple, if you lose your sense of direction, refund the client and let him or her go.
5) Billing: Mr. Deterville had AMICUS billing from 1997; it calculated effortlessly billable hours and assisted with time management.
6) Letter must not be longer than a page: Ms. French admitted that this was her favourite. Mr. Deterville’s position was that the more the lawyer wrote, the more likely he or she was to write something that he or she should not have. She recalled receiving a letter from Mr. Deterville that was two pages long and thought, “I’ve got you…” (He had broken his own rule.) She said he had good reason to, the exception to the rule was only if you really had something to say. In this case, she read the letter several times, and realised that she should advise the client to settle the case immediately.
The last speaker from the Bar was Ms. Diana Thomas, Mr. Deterville’s new partner at the firm. She described him as a man of integrity, loyal, feared NO ONE. He loved the law; he was a fun, carefree and cautious person. He was deliberate in everything he said and did.
There were some lessons learnt along the way by Ms. Thomas as well. Mr. Deterville emphasised that one should never borrow money from the clients’ account. In his mind this was theft. The money could only be transferred on completion of a transaction. Further, he encouraged colleagues to be respectful of each other.
Ms. Thomas felt that Mr. Deterville knew that we loved and respected him and she thanked him for the opportunity to have worked with him.
Justice Francis Belle stated that having listened to the addresses from the Bar and Attorney General that there was not much more His Lordship could reasonably add. His Lordship recalled that Mr. Deterville appeared before him on a few times and in one particular case against Sydney Bennett, QC from British Virgin Islands (BVI) and Patricia Augustin that Mr. Deterville had prevailed.
His Lordship read a message from Master Georgis Taylor-Alexander in which she indicated that she was not able to attend due to work commitments in Anguilla. She stated in her message that Mr. Deterville was a family friend and mentor, who always offered her guidance. Mr. Deterville held seminars with members of the Bar Association and understood the nuances of the Civil Code.
Mrs. Taylor-Alexander stated that she would always remember him, that he was a unique individual. His letter in November 2014 to his close friends and family made this day easier and less shocking.
Chief Justice Dame Janice Pereira stated that much had been said about the multi-talented and multi-faceted Hilford Deterville. There were common themes in all of the speeches: he was a man of honour, a good father, devout Methodist, and brilliant attorney. The Chief Justice indicated that his rich legacy would live on.
Dame Janice recalled that it was not too long ago that Hilford Deterville was giving a tribute for the late Justice Suzie D’Auvergne. It was clear in September that Mr. Deterville was not his usual self when he complained that his knees were weak but a lively discussion on Family law and Property law at the OECS law fair soon brought him to his feet.
The Chief Justice indicated that discussions with Mr. Deterville had begun between Her Ladyship and himself which Her Ladyship wished had been concluded, on the court processes and ways to improve them. Her Ladyship ended by extending sincere condolences to his wife and children, other relatives and friends. “May his soul rest in perfect and eternal peace.”
Ms. Trudy O. Glasgow is a practising attorney at the law firm Trudy O. Glasgow & Associates and a court-appointed mediator in Saint Lucia (and has also taught law at University level in the UK)*
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Next week: Out with the old, in with the new…