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Book: Born to Defend by Howard Randolph Hamilton


The Soul of Jurisprudence - Lawyers are oftentimes the butt of derision, maligned in revolting and  unforgiving terms. Deservedly so, some might argue. But there are a few who have risen above public chastisement, assuming the rarefied status of "People's Advocates." One such personage is Howard Randolph Hamilton.

Born to Defend is an autobiography, and more. Hamilton barrels through the early years of his life offering up the indelible, epiphanical moments that veered his life toward law and jurisprudence raising key questions on Pre-ordainment and Providence along the way.

In a prophetically provocative scene, the young Hamilton has his future whimsically divined by his aunt who decodes the pattern of tea leaves. And it is a script that he follows, ever poised to defend his young mates who are unjustly assailed. He becomes consumed by a sense of righteous indignation, of seeking justice when he too is wrongly accused and punished for a purported indiscretion.

Really, not much is needed for the reader to grasp the authenticity of the man. Hamilton speaks from the heart. His recollection of his youth is unadulterated and unfettered by designations and letters. And quite frankly, from its opening salvo, Born to Defend scores on multiple levels. "Defend" is written with perspicacity, offering unique insights into the legal profession.

Lay persons and lawyers alike will better grasp the constitution of the consummate professional mind. Judicial and legal nuances are outlined and some legal jargon is introduced to the uninitiated. Snap shots of key watershed cases are presented and  acquittals abound with only a single nolle prosequi (nolle prossed), despite the preponderance of evidence favouring the State.

The reader peers into Jamaica's judicial system with greater clarity. The politically powerful and the disenfranchised are defended equally. Some of the presentations rivet. Here, "The Hippie Murder Case (Hanover) comes to mind, while others are painfully graphic, such as Belmont Six (Westmorland), and The Potter's Row Murder (Kingston).

Hamilton's winning streak must be attributed to his wit, determination and sagacity. More importantly, though, is his humanity. He is an advocate for justice and human rights. Early in his career, Hamilton balked at defending an accused in an emotionally charged case involving the execution of a public official.

In “Innocent until proven Guilty," he revisits the moment when approached by the defendant's girlfriend. He is disquieted and trepidation grips him: "I panicked...I did not wish to have anything to do with that case. Horrified as I was like the rest of the nation, my mind raced to find a legitimate reason I could not accept...but could not find one."  

His initial interview with the defendant may well be the crux of Born to Defend, and the window to his soul. Revealing that he was unable to accept his case, Hamilton vividly relates the following: "I will never forget how he just looked beyond my head toward Blue Mountains in the east and said, 'It's alright Mr Hamilton, I know nobody goin' wan defend me because a big man dead,' and as I looked at him a tear rolled down his face. I felt about an inch tall. I then said to myself, 'but gunman don't cry.'..." There and then he made an oath to reexamine the case.

As to the $64,000 question: Why and how could a lawyer in good conscience defend a murderer or vile defendant? Hamilton is poignant and argumentatively sound. "...your sworn to defend all persons who seek your guidance and help.  Defending does not mean defending a person who has confessed his guilt, for such a person is deserving of the best efforts being advanced on his behalf from the point of view of sentencing and your obligation is to advise accordingly. However, the fact that he admits to committing the offence does not necessarily mean he's guilty as there may be defenses available to such an accused, for example self defence or accidents....." He then cautions, "Until that admission is made Counsel should never, never, make his own conclusion on the question of guilt."

And his counsel to legal dilettantes and even the most seasoned professional is invaluable. It is all inscribed in lucid terms: Understand the jury, immediately address spurious and tainted information that seep into the media, secure the least prejudicial venue to have a case adjudicated, and so on. There are also unlikely wiles to derail the prosecution's poise and strategy.

Hamilton's lessons will etch into the mind of the legal aspirant: "Never be overwhelmed by the preponderance of evidence against your client, who may be speaking the truth, and always visit the locus in quo (place in question), as this gives you an advantage over the Prosecution if they fail to go and it gives you one up on the Crown witness, who will be astounded by your knowledge and being unsure of how much you know, cannot run the risk of lying."

Fortuitously, Hamilton's work is not encumbered by Latin etymologies. He speaks to the reader - to all of us - without pedantry. And it is this pedestrian catechism - without airs - that hoists Born to Defend into the genre of epistemology.  

Hamilton, for all his Solomonic acumen remains markedly humble and gratuitous, acknowledging his mentors, notably,  Ian Ramsey and Basil Rowe. Even an unlikely stranger who touched his life in a small but meaningful way, long before his celebrity, is not forgotten. Unfortunately, the existential value of this work can be easily overlooked by the intriguing narration of Hamilton's  legal battles. What an egregious blunder that would be.

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Born to Defend by Howard Randolph Hamilton, QC, CD, JP

Publisher: Selecto Publications Limited, 2012

ISBN 978-976-8050-34-2


Rating: Essential