Prominent Queen’s Counsel Karl Hudson-Phillips, a legal luminary and political pioneer, left this world quietly, dying in his sleep yesterday morning.
He was 80 years old.
Hudson-Phillips left Trinidad on Tuesday afternoon with his wife, Kathleen, for England and arrived on Wednesday. He was going to celebrate his son’s 30th birthday but had other business to attend to there.
His son Kevin is a financial consultant in London, while his daughter Sarah is studying medicine there.
His other daughter, Jennifer, from his first marriage, is a lawyer.
Sources said Hudson-Phillips woke up yesterday morning, had two eggs for breakfast and went back to rest, when his wife noticed that he was not moving.
She called emergency services who tried to resuscitate him for 45 minutes, to no avail.
Following an autopsy, Hudson-Phillips’ body is expected to be brought back to Trinidad.
In his colourful political life, Hudson-Phillips inspired two famous calypsoes, “Ah ‘fraid Karl” and “Not a damn seat for them”, a prophetic remark made by then prime minister George Chambers in 1981 about the electoral fate of the Organisation for National Reconstruction (ONR), led by Hudson-Phillips.
But Hudson-Phillips, as a politician, has a significant legacy. He started the process of dismantling the invincibility of the People’s National Movement (PNM).
It was the ONR with its 91,000 votes “and not a damn seat” which would help demolish the PNM five years later in its heartland, the East-West Corridor, as part of the National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR).
Hudson-Phillips, a former heir-apparent to PNM leader Dr Eric Williams, however powerful the ONR, was not considered for leadership of the NAR because of the negative and enduring stench of the Public Order Act.
Brought by the PNM government in 1973 in the wake of the 1970 Black Power Revolution, there was a public outcry from the trade unions, business, law association and the public, which rejected the bill because they felt it trampled on people’s constitutional rights.
The Act, designed to control dissidents, was deemed too draconian.
As Attorney General, Hudson-Phillips had drafted the Act, which was subsequently withdrawn by the Williams government.
In keeping with the highest standards of the Westminster system, Hudson-Phillips tendered his resignation, which was refused.
Political veteran Ferdie Ferreira, who has known Hudson-Phillips for 70 years, said Hudson-Phillips was “demonised” for legislation which the government had agreed was needed.
Ferreira said just last Friday he told Hudson-Phillips that if the Public Order Act was on the statute books, the lawlessness that prevails today in the society might not have reached its current proportions.
“Karl never ran from a fight once he felt the cause was right,” Ferreira noted.
An example of this was when Hudson-Phillips decided, against Eric Williams’ advice, to prosecute accused murderer Abdul Malick.
This decision made Hudson-Phillips the only attorney general in the history of Trinidad and Tobago to get out of his administrative functions as AG and, wearing his legal cloak, step into the High Court and successfully prosecute one of the country’s most notorious murderers, sending him straight to the gallows.
Williams knew that if Hudson-Phillips had lost the case it would have been a tremendous political embarrassment to him (Hudson-Phillips) and the government. But Hudson-Phillips was not prepared to risk any other lawyer taking on this case.
“If I fail I am prepared to suffer the consequences,” he told Williams.
He won all the way up to the Privy Council.
Hudson-Phillips break with the PNM came with the undated resignation letter, which was introduced by Williams after the resignation of Hector McClean from the party and Hudson-Phillips from the government.
Hudson-Phillips challenged the undated letter as being undemocratic, unconstitutional and dictatorial and said he was not prepared to sign it under any circumstances.
He declined to run for a seat in the party.
“Who would keep your letter?” he had asked Williams.
And he warned of a creeping dictatorship.
Hudson-Phillips then formed the ONR, with persons like Ferreira, Anthony Smart and others.
Ferreira recalled that after the 1981 general election, Hudson-Phillips also went bankrupt.
The party was in tremendous debt and as leader he accepted the responsibility and had to sell some of his real estate.
“He said, ‘I gave my life to this thing (politics), they rejected me and I now have to settle down and look after my family’,” Ferreira recalled him saying.
After that setback, Hudson-Phillip, always a towering legal figure, focused heavily on his legal career, fighting and winning some of the best-known cases and the most lucrative briefs in the Caribbean.
He fought high-profile cases involving Brad Boyce, government minister Dhanraj Singh, and Vijay Narinesingh.
In Grenada, he prosecuted all the murderers of Maurice Bishop.
Born to Grenadian parents, his father Henry Hudson-Phillips was an eminent QC.
Karl Hudson-Phillips, who was runner-up for the Island Scholarship, attended Tranquillity and Queen’s Royal College, before going to Cambridge University in the UK.
And he would play Chopin on the piano before moving seamlessly to “Jean and Dinah”.
Among his flaws was that he did not suffer fools gladly and was sometimes intemperate.
But most times he was charming. And he liked the finer things in life.
He could sing, liked photography and local art.
“He had a dual personality--both aggressive and charismatic,” Ferreira stated.
“The country has an eternal debt to him becuase he has always been in the vanguard of the national struggle,” he added.
Ferreira and Hudson-Phillips’ other good friend, Carlos John (from ONR days), said he was fearless on the issue of integrity.
“He always said ‘clean hands, dirty tongue. This meant that once your hands were clean, you could cuss anybody,” John said, adding: “Integrity was his hallmark.”
“We have lost a good son of the soil,” he said.
Hudson-Phillips would have been 81 on April 20.