The Legal Mettle of Bernard De Santos

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Bernard De Santos (Stabroek News photo)

Tribute by Albert Baldeo

In 1982, at the age of 22, I prosecuted my first case at the DPP’s Chambers as State Counsel. It was a murder case, and I was “trust into the deep to sink or swim,” as my then supervisors Manny Ramao S.C. and George Jackman S.C. sympathized. Moreover, the defense attorney was my very learned friend Bernard DeSantos S.C, an advocate I have always admired. It was a baptism of fire. He was one of the most knowledgeable lawyers in the criminal law, and was an adroit cross examiner. He would confuse and wear the witnesses down, and get them to contradict the evidence from sheer frustration and tiredness when the case was going against him.

To see Bernard DeSantos at his best, exuding the guile, class and style, and morbid fear in the hearts of the witnesses, (and sometimes juries), made you stop and admire a legal entertainer, who could destroy any case. He was a showman, scholar and advocate, all rolled into one. He knew the criminal law, would explode into frequent objections, and would never back down from a fight.

They don’t make them like Bernard anymore. He belongs right up there with advocates like Doodnath Singh S.C, Rex McKay S.C, Donald Robinson S.C, Miles Fitzpatrick S.C, Jailall Kissoon, JOF Haynes Q.C, Fred Wills Q.C, Sir Lionel Luckhoo, Peter Britton S.C, Charles Ramson S.C, and the other worthy legal luminaries Guyana has so proudly produced in the criminal law, just as how distinguished colleagues like Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, Hon. Mohamed Shahabudeen, Sir Sonny Ramphal, Ashton Chase S.C, B.O. Adams S.C, Lloyd Luckhoo S.C, Clarence Hughes S.C, Miles Fitzpatrick S.C, Ralph Ramkarran S.C, and others have adorned the civil bar.

Soon after that initiation, I tried a case where Bernard, Doodnath and Rex were for the 3 accused in a single case. I had the privilege of seeing them up close, and seeing how they can dissect a case. It was like facing Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Malcolm Marshall at the same time. However, I repelled them like Gavaskar. To say I scored a century will be inappropriate, for prosecutors do not win or lose. They only serve justice. Their clients were all convicted. But it was more like facing Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Mike Tyson in the same ring. You had to roll with the punches and fight back, however bloodied. Of the 3, Bernard gave the best performance, which is saying a lot.

I have also seen many advocates here in the USA, and in other parts of the world. They hardly effuse the commanding presence and execute the withering assault on their clients’ cases, like Bernard would. Nor do they have his track record of success. Indeed, they pale in comparison. Bernard DeSantos was the quintessential advocate for the accused. This short tribute only deals with his skill as a practising lawyer. When you factor in his achievements as Guyana’s AG, and a mentor to younger lawyers, his contribution to Guyana is even more remarkable.

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Albert Baldeo heads the Baldeo Foundation and Justice Center, located at 106-11 Liberty Avenue, Ozone Park, NY 11417. Tel: (718) 529-2300

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