It was in December 1982. I was fresh out of law school when I was assigned the matter. It was a habeas corpus case involving a child. I was representing the mother who had flown into Trinidad from San Francisco, hoping to retake her child from her sister who had brought the child into Trinidad.
After initial proceedings when the writ was issued, the matter was fixed for trial in January 1983. Remembering there had been a fire in an adjoining office that Christmas, I decided I would take the case file home for safekeeping during the Christmas break. There was indeed a fire on December 27, but our office had not suffered any major damage.
Believing we were out of the woods, I returned the file to the office on January 3, 1983, the first working day of the year. After a case conference that day, Senior Counsel, Allan Alexander, instructed me to make copies of entries in the child’s diary, which he believed constituted important evidence. I made the copies and called his office to say I was bringing them.
Junior counsel told me that as it was late, I should go home and bring the copies the following day. No sooner had I arrived home than my brother told me that there was a news report that my office was on fire. I headed back to Port of Spain with dread in my heart. My only thought was of the diary. I saw my office burn to cinders. The next day Senior told me I had to try to recall the entries in the diary for an affidavit and prepare myself to be cross-examined.
I spent hours visualising the entries and writing down what I could remember.
On the day of the trial, I waited anxiously to be cross-examined by Karl Hudson-Phillips, counsel for the respondents. I wanted to testify about the thought processes I had gone through in recalling the entries. I wanted to explain that since primary school I had realised that not only could I recall printed words, but could also remember exactly which side of the book the page with the written words had appeared.
It was important that I be allowed to explain. I did not want it to be thought that I had fabricated evidence, especially as the motto of my alma mater was Veritas. When Mr Hudson-Phillips announced that he had completed cross-examination, I was stunned. I hurried after him as he strode down the corridor. “Are you not going to cross-examine me?” I asked. He looked me up and down and said: “Hazel, do you think I am an ass?”
Then it dawned on me. He knew he could not shake my testimony and had decided to leave it alone. I have used this case to illustrate to law students when they should not cross-examine.
Some three months later, Justice Des Iles gave his decision. Junior counsel, Beverley John, and I sat in the courtroom, overcome with emotion. As Mr Hudson-Phillips walked out of the court, he paused by my chair and said, “Hazel, you get your child.”
Subsequently, there was a last-minute extension of the stay of execution until the appeal. One day, I called him, complaining that the appeal was not being pursued expeditiously, that a child was involved and the record had not yet been filed. He heard me out, then said very gently, “Hazel, I am not in that appeal. They fire me.” And he gave his characteristic chuckle.
When Justice des Iles died and I wrote a tribute, Mr Hudson-Phillips phoned me. He had gone through the trouble to call the law schools in The Bahamas and Trinidad trying to find me to convey the gratitude of both the judge’s widow and himself for the sentiments I had expressed.
I have heard it said that Karl Hudson-Phillips was arrogant. I remember him as being very kind, sensitive, erudite, but not too proud to admit when he had made a mistake.
I was attending a cocktail reception, when, because of the kind compliments he had paid to me, I was slighted by someone. I thought he had not observed what had occurred, but as I walked away, he promptly drew me back into his circle and gave me a big comforting hug.
For years, he had been insistent that at the request of my father, he had represented my brother in a criminal case. I kept telling him he was mistaken, that my only brother, a public servant, had never been in trouble with the law.
Finally, my brother attended his office and introduced himself. Mr Hudson-Phillips promptly called my house, while my brother was still with him, and apologised for his embarrassing mistake. He had had the wrong Thompson.
I will miss our friendly banter, my eternal playful protests at his having my husband’s first name as his second, his warm hugs, twinkling eyes and the smile that lit up his face whenever we met.
My family and I extend condolences to his family, my colleagues and the country on the loss of this illustrious son of the soil.
Rest in peace, Karl Terrence Hudson-Phillips.
• Hazel Thompson-Ahye is an