Ulric Cross breezed into Trinidad and Tobago in the early 70s with a typewriter and the judicial world shook.
He was a practical judge, judgments never delayed, because he came to us as a seasoned navigator and once he pinpointed which one, be it the plaintiff or the defendant, he decided was legally right he rose, typed his judgment and delivered it.
The late Tajmool Hosein, QC was one of the few other persons of legal eminence at that time who could touch type and thus speed ahead of his colleagues in written legal output.
Ironically, now that the keyboard is an indispensable part of all our lives and we hear portentous statements about using technology to aid the dispensation of justice, we have had complete silence on the recent Privy Council decision dealing with delay in the delivery of judgments. Is this case one in which the judicial bosses have given an open ended bligh?
I have chosen the phrase “breezed into TnT” to describe Ulric’s return home because he was a breezy character, so unlike most of the judges of his era.
He was of easygoing manner, blessed with genuine, fetching charm, such charm never reeking of superficial, choreographed, celebrity skin teeth, made up and practised in some publicist’s office.
There was not a spot of bling about Ulric Cross, yet he left us last week, if not the most accomplished citizen of Trinidad and Tobago, as certain a pick on any best 11 of all time as a Pele or Sobers would be in their respective sports.
Ulric taught me to play squash when I was around 35 and he was already pushing 60. It was during the drinks, either at the Oval bar or in the porch of his house in St Lucia Street, after the once or twice weekly game, that I got to know what manner of man defied every known statistic of likely death known to the Royal Air Force.
Once you flew more than a dozen missions it was expected that your luck would run out and your plane would inevitably be shot down. Ulric always came back and lived to have a civilian career as distinguished as his preceding military one.
What a contrast Ulric was in a Trinidad and Tobago in which you pelt two jock waist and “you is a icon”. Worse, some self-aggrandising politician will rub up on the performer in search of a political high and tuck some public funds in the waist, but the producers of the film on Ulric’s life are still looking for funds to complete the production of Hero, which deals with Ulric’s life.
My late mother, Celia, was very dismissive of persons she felt suffered from “positionitis”.
In honour of our matter-of-fact hero, Ulric Cross, it is time to repeat the dictum of another surety first 11 pick that puts “positionitis”, namely the arrogance which high office attracts, into perspective.
In his biography of Sir Hugh Wooding, Selwyn Ryan recounts a quarrel, which the judges picked with Chief Justice Wooding on the occasion of his retirement. The court staff had arranged a retirement party for Chief Justice Wooding but had omitted to tell the High Court judges until the last minute. The High Court judges stayed away from the staff function in preference for their own which they had planned for a later date. Chief Justice Wooding refused to attend the High Court judges’ party because of the snub delivered to the staff.
The outcome of the matter was that there was an exchange of correspondence between the High Court judges and the retiring Chief Justice in which he explained why he would not accept a put down of his staff.
In his letter, Sir Hugh referred to the fact that during his tenure of six years: “I have sought to show how much I differ from the view that dignity attaches to a position because it is exalted rather than to a man because he is gracious.”
In this twisted political environment, exalted position is grabbed in substitution for an identity. The only use many of those on the current political platforms would have for the Sir Hugh Wooding lesson would be to crush it under the wheels of a speeding Prado or similar political manhood-boosting vehicle.
Over the decade that I have been writing this column, crude displays of power and coarse gallery have flowed from public office in ever increasing volumes.
Much of what is currently passing for political campaigning is disgusting. The campaigners are describing each other as criminals as though they have agreed that what they are offering us is a choice of criminals with Cabinet experience.
Many believe we have hit political rock bottom but the validating elites are still largely silent, swimming along with the muddy tide, not a serious word of caution to the platform “criminalisers”.