Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Goodbye my friend

Dana Seetahal SC was a dear friend whom I admired greatly. She was a legal warrior in every sense of the word and in each forum she appeared on, Dana performed with distinction.

In 1829, US Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story stated, “The law is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favours, but by lavish homage.” 

Dana fully understood this judge’s articulation of the demands of the law and she proved she could win its love.

Dana was in love with the law and the law loved her back in return. If a matter required long hours of preparation, Dana would willingly commit to the labour of love.

Her work ethic was remarkable and she was always well prepared, armed with cases and legal authorities to support her submissions.

Whatever the outcome of her cases,  one was assured that Dana put her best foot forward and fought to the end to ensure that justice was not compromised.

It is that fighting spirit which she possessed that made her an outstanding counsel. While some in the profession are full of “huff and puff’’, Dana was an attorney of substance—filled with passion for her profession as she set the bar for high standards and integrity in the execution of her duties.

Writing this article is extremely difficult because my friend has been killed in horrific circumstances that have left many of her friends numb and the country shocked.

Dana was the victim of a merciless killing in which she was hunted as prey and then killed when she was most vulnerable. Her brutal murder is similar to several matters in which Dana herself prosecuted and brought the perpetrators to justice.

If Dana were alive today and she read about a killing similar to that of her own, she would be first to offer advice to the police officers involved in the matter on the best approach to their investigation. Dana would be scientific and logical in the strategy that should be adopted in order to get the evidence required to find the killers and bring them to justice. 

She would never compromise the rules of natural justice or due process but would push the law to its legitimate limit to ensure that fairness prevailed.

Dana was a no-nonsense individual who had little patience for superficial discussion in times that demanded comprehensive discourse.

I am not suggesting that Dana did not enjoy a good “ole talk’’ or did not possess a sense of humour. Quite the contrary, but with Dana timing was everything and it was therefore important to know when downtime was appropriate and when it was not.

And for those who did not know the difference, Dana’s tone of voice and body language were sufficient to ensure the required adjustment.

Whenever a discussion about the improvement in the administration of criminal justice arose, I took the opportunity to commend Dana publicly for the vital role she played in taking the system forward.

Through her columns, Dana was able to take difficult legal principles and concepts and make them understandable to the layman so that the wider community could join in debates and discussions on subjects of national importance and interest.

Dana expressed her views on matters in a powerful and convincing manner because such was her personality—independent, fearless and prepared to let the chips fall as they may.

Even if readers or listeners disagreed with her commentaries, Dana was prepared to defend her views and leave it to the challengers to convince her otherwise.

And as her friend I can attest that she was open-minded, listened carefully to opposing positions and agreed to disagree if there was no consensus.

As a law student, I heard of Dana’s prowess in the courtrooms. When I was called to the Bar, Dana was one of the practitioners I chose as a mentor primarily because of her fearless approach in the courts and her constant desire to be on top of the law.

Dana approached her profession with a brave heart and a sharp mind which made her a formidable opponent in her most comfortable environment—the courtroom.

 No case was too difficult for Dana and she welcomed those matters that challenged her intellect.

She never got caught up in the numbers game in order to prove her worth and preferred instead to let her advocacy skills and written submissions speak for themselves.

During her distinguished career, Dana assisted hundreds, more likely thousands, of persons involved in the law including students, law enforcement officers, young professionals and colleagues.

Dana was an inspiration to all who interacted with her because she left a lasting impression. The life of Dana Seetahal was snuffed out in tragic circumstances that leave us in a state of unimaginable sorrow.

Dana lived her life, very comfortable in her own skin, as she gave of herself to others and shared her wealth of knowledge and experience.

She epitomised the words of William Shakespeare taken from the play Hamlet in which the character Polonius gives his last advice to his son Laertes—

“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

And while Dana would expect us to grieve because we have lost, by her death, a true friend, she would want us to give her and the country she loved so dearly, what she fought for all her life—justice.

• Gillian Lucky is an attorney-at-law and presenter of the television programme Just Gill