30.04.19

Reflections on the life of the Late Hon. Douglas Valmore Fletcher, OJ, CBE, PC Attorney-at-Law 1917-2000

Sandra Minott-Phillips, Q.C.
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Extracts from a speech delivered on October 25, 2018

Public service was as important as the practice of law to the Hon Douglas Valmore Fletcher, Order of Jamaica, Commander of the Distinguished Order of the British Empire and Privy Councillor. In 1956, at age 39, he was appointed to the pre-Independence Legislative Council by the Governor of the day. A major task of that council then was the creation of a self-governing Constitution for Jamaica—Douglas Fletcher was, therefore, one of the architects of our Constitution. At various times he was:

  1. Minister without Portfolio and leader of Government Business in the Senate in the pre-Independence PNP administration headed by then Premier, Norman Washington Manley;
  2. Leader of Opposition Business in the Senate in the post-Independence JLP Administration headed by the Prime Minister, Alexander Bustamante;
  3. Chairman of the Essential Services Tribunal;
  4. Director of the Jamaica Social Welfare Commission;
  5. Trustee of the Norman Washington Manley Foundation;
  6. Trustee of the Edna Manley Foundation
  7. Jamaica’s Ambassador to the USA;
  8. Chairman of the Permanent Council of the Organization of OAS;
  9. Council member of the Jamaican Bar Association and General Legal Council; and an
  10. Associate Tutor in Law Office Management at the Norman Manley Law School.  

Douglas Fletcher had an uncanny and rare ability to unerringly gauge the mood and mind of others. It served him very well when he practised initially as a solicitor-advocate. There was nothing pretentious about the man. Even though he was a named partner, it was common place for him to walk into an associate’s office, take a chair and strike up a discussion about current events of interest. Additionally, his office door was always open to anyone who wanted to consult him or just sit with him and shoot the breeze. Virtually up until the day he died he came to work at the office every day in his then capacity as one of our consultants. If he had a personal problem he did not carry it with him to work or, if he did, he did not let it show. He was always pleasant and ever-ready with a word of encouragement for attorneys and staff alike. With the clarity provided by hindsight, I now realize that over the course of that decade he systematically transferred the values and attitudes he held dear to the next generation of potential MF&G partners—a sort of succession planning via osmosis.

Douglas Fletcher loved politics in the true sense of the word, meaning the crafting of public policy. He encouraged the attorneys at MF&G to be more than just providers of legal services for remuneration, and to get involved in national development and the effort to build a better Jamaica for all. He instilled public service into the firm’s DNA. Now, or in the recent past, MF&G attorneys serve/have served on the governing Boards of:

  1. Tax Administration Jamaica;
  2. Companies Office of Jamaica;
  3. Electoral Advisory Committee;
  4. The National Water Commission;
  5. The Salvation Army;
  6. YMCA;
  7. The Access to Information Appeals Tribunal;
  8. The Rules Committee of the Supreme Court;
  9. The Bar Council of JBA;
  10. General Legal Council;
  11. Kingston Legal Aid Clinic;
  12. The Port Authority of Jamaica; and
  13. The Urban Development Corporation

to name a few.

Douglas Fletcher was the best public speaker I’ve heard, and I have heard many. He interwove humour into his topic in an inimitable way. People like Michael Manley or Derek Jones on a good day could come close to equalling him, but no one was better. It had a lot to do with his timing and innate ability to zero in on what was of interest to his audience. Like every other lawyer at MF&G since its inception, he was referred to by the 3 initials that were uniquely his: in this case, DVF. At first, I found it curious, given his oratorical skills, that DVF was admitted to practice as a solicitor. I had no doubt he’d have made a fine barrister indeed. Reflection, as always, provided perspective.

In the days when an attorney could only be either a barrister or solicitor, the conduct of the business of law was the exclusive preserve of the solicitor. A solicitor could also advocate on behalf of litigants in the Resident Magistrate’s court, so he was not excluded entirely from the experience of advocacy. His destiny, however, was to be one of three founders of a very successful legal business. Together with his co-solicitors, Frank Myers and “Whisky” Gordon, Douglas Fletcher created, in 1944, the firm of Myers, Fletcher & Gordon, now in its 75th year of continuous existence. The business model they created has stood the test of time. Their creation has the enviable reputation of indisputably being one of the premier law firms in the English speaking Caribbean. It is a reputation that has been earned, not bestowed.

The partners of MF&G at any given time constitute a significant part of DVF’s legal professional legacy. It is a legacy we consciously take pains to “handle with care”. Unlike destruction, which can occur in an instant, creation is hard and requires sustained effort. Creation coupled with longevity is priceless. In fact, if you think about it, longevity is, by itself, testament to the success of the formula giving rise to it.

The formula crafted by DVF is simple: The timely delivery of excellent service, courteously.

Honoured by the Jamaican Bar Association as an exemplar in 1995, DVF did not countenance dishonesty (actual or intellectual), rudeness, histrionics or discourtesy. For him, these had no place in the practice of this noble profession. DVF, from the outset, practised law calmly and effectively, wasting neither words nor time. His first outing as a solicitor/advocate set the tone.

Admitted in 1938 at the threshold age of 21, DVF won his first case 3 days later representing a shopkeeper charged with exposing meat for sale in a place not appointed for the purpose. The event was immortalized by the Gleaner and I find it to be of interest. Remember, the charge was exposing meat (in this case pork) for sale in a place not appointed for the purpose. The Special District Constable giving evidence for the Crown testified to entering a shop on Slipe Road and seeing the accused shopkeeper cutting up a quantity of fresh pork on the counter and weighing it in a scale. He saw other people in the shop, but none with meat.

Cross-examined by DVF, the constable could not say whether the defendant told him meat was being cut up to be corned. At the end of the Crown’s case, DVF submitted that the RM should acquit the shopkeeper because the Crown adduced no evidence of exposure of the meat for sale. His Honour, Mr H M Radcliffe, ruled against DVF on his no-case submission.

The accused shopkeeper, now called upon to answer the charge, testified in his defence that he had fresh pork at his shop which he was cutting up to be corned. Asked in cross-examination why he was weighing the meat, he said because he got it in two big bits that he said he paid for without weighing. As he was going to corn it and would have to cut it up for that purpose, he was weighing it before doing so (the unreported sub-text being, I assume, to ensure he got the quantity he paid for). Under re-examination by DVF, he said he’d been selling corned pork at that location for the last 2 years.

In acquitting the accused shopkeeper, the Judge said he believed the accused shopkeeper’s story that he was cutting up the pork on his counter for the purpose of corning it, and not for the purpose of selling it. Aside from being the first win for a young solicitor, the case is seemingly unremarkable and insignificant as criminal cases go. But look at what it tells you about that young 21year old 3-day practitioner:

  1. He went to the RM court knowing the elements the Crown needed to prove to establish the offence of illegally exposing meat (pork) for sale, and that it did not apply to selling corned pork.
  2. He was mindful that the shopkeeper’s act of weighing the meat could, without explanation, be viewed as more consistent with offering the meat for sale than with cutting it up to corn it.
  3. He obtained from his client an account of what he was doing with the meat (cutting it up to corn it) which he put to the crown witness in cross-examination, as is required if his client is to be able to give his own explanation in answer to the charge.
  4. He had obtained from his client a plausible explanation for him weighing the meat.
  5. He appreciated the significance of the constable’s evidence that none of the persons in the shop was in possession of meat. [No selling of meat to them was established.]
  6. In cross-examining the Crown witness, he asked only what was necessary for putting his client’s case to him, nothing more.
  7. He had the fortitude to not allow the Judge’s ruling against him on his no-case submission to adversely affect his presentation of his client’s defence.
  8. In re-examining his client, he was alive to the potentially favourable impact on his client’s defence of establishing the shopkeeper had sold corned pork from that location for the past two years.

The result? The creation of reasonable doubt of guilt which, as you know, in a criminal case, is all it takes.

Evident in that simple little case is preparation, preparation, preparation! The fully-thought-through analysis, adroitness and sheer ducks-in-a-row i-dotting and t-crossing that went into that seemingly effortless exercise characterised DVF’s approach to pretty much everything in his stellar career.

Sandra minott phillips giving award

 

Sandra Minott-Phillips presents The Douglas Fletcher Memorial Award to a student at the Norman Manley Law School in the Aubrey Fraser Lecture Theatre on October 25, 2018 on the occasion of the Year 1 Prize Giving.