Lawyers pay tribute to the late Sir James
Bermuda’s legal world yesterday honoured the late Sir James Astwood, a trailblazing former Chief Justice.
Sir James, the first black Bermudian Chief Justice, was said to be an insightful and compassionate judge whose common-sense rulings had stood the test of time. He died in September aged 95.
Wayne Caines, the Minister of National Security and acting Attorney-General, said it was important to remember the obstacles that Sir James overcame.
Mr Caines added: “He was the pride of our community on his appointment, inspiring generations of others who heretofore had not seen this opportunity as possible or attainable.
“The stone that was rejected became the cornerstone.”
Sir James, the son of a prominent builder, was a dockyard apprentice during the Second World War at the Dockyard Technical School and trained as a shipwright. But he later turned to the law and trained at the University of Toronto and the Inns of Court in London.
Sir James, however, faced limited opportunities in a segregated 1950s Bermuda and worked in Jamaica for 17 years, where he became an acting High Court judge.
He returned home in 1974 and served two years as senior magistrate, was appointed Solicitor-General in 1976 and became Chief Justice a year later.
Sir James later served on the Court of Appeal and as the president of the Court of Appeal before his retirement.
He was knighted in 1982 at Buckingham Palace.
Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons said Sir James battled gender inequality in the courts and worked to level the playing field for women throughout his career. Mrs Justice Simmons said Sir James had a sharp sense of humour, which he sometimes used to deliver honest criticism.
She added that when he stepped away from the Bermuda Bar, Sir James gave her his robe, which she still wore.
Larry Mussenden, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said Sir James helped to restore confidence in the Bermuda bench during a turbulent period of riots and general strikes.
Mr Mussenden added: “He set out to establish an independent judiciary, including blacks and whites, ensuring the judiciary was efficient, as well as setting the platform for Bermuda as an international business jurisdiction.”
He said Sir James was intelligent and “tough as nails” with integrity and pride — but that it was difficult to walk with him in public because everyone would stop to greet him.
Geoffrey Bell, a Justice of Appeal, said Sir James tackled family cases involving children as often as major criminal and civil matters.
He added that the as top judge Sir James was always insightful and compassionate.
Mr Justice Bell said: “He had a well-earned reputation for dealing with these difficult situations extremely well. He will be remembered as a safe pair of hands who guided Bermuda’s judiciary with fairness.”
Mr Justice Bell added: “We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.”
Elizabeth Christopher, the president of the Bermuda Bar Association, said Sir James made his decisions with his heart and his mind and encouraged young lawyers like herself.
Saul Froomkin QC said Sir James understood that his decisions affected more than the parties in court and would be felt by the public as a whole. Mr Froomkin, a former Attorney-General, added that Sir James had left a legacy of common sense and integrity in the justice system.
Delroy Duncan, of law firm Trott & Duncan, said Sir James had an “uncanny” sense of where to find the truth in any dispute.
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