By Albert Baldeo
Ashton Chase, SC, OE, was the lawyer’s lawyer, a labor expert, a statesman, and a wonderful human being. He will be remembered as a principled man, a virtuous soul and a kind-hearted gentleman, who always helped younger lawyers.
Even now, decades after, I can still picture him, thoughtfully walking down Croal Street and South Road, file in hand, fixated on his pending matter, and returning to his chambers aplomb, erudition and confidence assured, moving on to secure the next victory. The consummate professional, he was rightly awarded Guyana’s highest award-the Order of Excellence, the highest award of the state, given to citizens of Guyana for distinction and eminence in the field of human endeavor.
Ashton deserves the top row of Guyanese whose achievements, vision and dedication made us proud, a legendary figure who touched and transformed the lives of many, while making a unique and lasting impact on the confluence of law, labor and politics. He made major contributions to Guyana’s jurisprudence by the number of cases he fought in Guyana’s Courts, including the Teemal and Mohamed Ali cases, forcing the Court of Appeal to rule against the then government in its acts of discrimination and violations of the constitution, cases that have made legal and constitutional history. He was the author of several works on labor law, many of which proudly adorn my library, including his seminal work, “A History of Trade Unionism in Guyana, 1900 to 1961, with an Epilogue to 1964.” “133 Days Towards Freedom in Guiana,” is another work all should read. A tribute to his life is captured in the work by Dr. Nanda Gopaul, a mutual friend, entitled “Ashton Chase – The Bengal Tiger.”
He was a historic, unique and unforgettable father figure for Guyana, the Caribbean and the Commonwealth, whose accomplishments was matched by his humility. I had the priceless experience of being junior counsel to him in a few cases, and his thoroughness, insight and command of the law were a marvel to experience. He hand wrote all of his pleadings, before having his secretary type them up, an arduous task he diligently undertook before going home. He was not the cut and paste lawyer who recycled previous pleadings and submissions, but brought a fresh insight into every case, however large or small it was.
A lasting memory I have of him is a case where he and B.O. Adams, QC, 2 legal heavyweights, argued for over an hour in a land case matter. In 1981, I was an intern at B.O. Adams’ Chambers, a law school requirement, and the arguments they espoused were of the highest traditions. I was inspired by their erudition, scholarship and depth of legal analyses. In another case, in 1984, referred to as the “Body in the Bush murder case,” I was sued for protesting Judge Kenneth Barnwell perplexing “no case” submissions ruling that shockingly and unconscionably acquitted the murder accused Alvin Mitchell. Mitchell claimed that the victim, 30 year old waitress Nastawantee Persaud, whose semi-nude, dead body was found in a clump of bushes, fell out of his moving vehicle, and met her death by accident, somehow falling precisely on a sharp object that not only impaled her, but caused strangulation marks on her neck and other parts of her body. The evidence established the antithesis of that and demanded an explanation from Mitchell to the jury, for the death of the brutally beaten and raped deceased. Ashton comforted me by advising me that injustice and oppression are mankind’s most defining traits, and that one must always defeat them without flinching, advice that still guides me now as we seek to conquer new worlds, and expand on his life’s achievements in other parts of the globe.
Thanks for a life of service and love for humanity, Ashton Chase!