Justice George Anthony Edoo

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Justice George Anthony EdooJUSTICE GEORGE ANTHONY EDOO, a former Appeal Court judge, served as the second Ombudsman of Trinidad and Tobago.

The following is an article on Justice Edoo’s legacy published by the Trinidad Express.  Justice Edoo had provided the Express with a copy of his biography at their request, months before his passing.

‘Dedication and hard work’

Edoo’s legal legacy

By Richard Charan, Multimedia Editor, richard.charan@trinidadexpress.com

Story Created: Nov 10, 2013 at 10:45 PM ECT

Story Updated: Nov 11, 2013 at 8:29 AM ECT

IN the final years of his life, former ombudsman and Appeal Court judge George Anthony Edoo penned his memoir. It spanned the period between his parents’ indentureship in the early 20th century, to his retirement in 2006, after 61 years of public service.

Edoo avoided national awards and recognition, content to return to his reading and time with family and wife Rahzia.

He considered his written account, which he titled Chances of a Lifetime, as nothing more than a family record. However, his life intersected many times with the prominent people and events in post-Independence Trinidad.

As a result, his biography, both intimate and informative, has enriched the historical record.

A schoolmate of renowned novelist Samuel Selvon and employee of trade unionist Adrian Cola Rienzi, Edoo married Rahzia Khan (she would later teach at Naparima Girls’ High School) in August 1954, at the Registrar General’s office in Port of Spain, where he had been an accountant with the Colonial Secretariat months before.


Two years later, his father, Kongee Edoo (former indentured worker who opened a shop in San Fernando with money saved from his labour) died.

The only grandchild at the time was Edoo’s son Ahmed, who was born the previous year.

Edoo recounted: “Parliamentary elections were held in 1957. It heralded the emergence of the People’s National Movement (PNM). I was appointed the assistant returning officer for San Fernando West. The PNM made a clean sweep of the elections that year, replacing names such as Roy Joseph, Norman Tang and Bertie Gomes. At the Supreme Court building, there was a young reporter relaying results as they came in. He was Mr Ken Gordon, who became a media mogul.”

Edoo wrote that he decided then to study law, passing all his local exams (Latin was then a requirement) and joining Lincoln Inn in England to qualify as a lawyer.

He left for London in 1961 by jet-prop plane, recalling that it was a time when “colonial territories were getting their independence from Britain. Jamaicans, Ghanaians, Nigerians and Arabs from various Middle East territories came to London in droves. Many of them were there to get an education in order to take over the reins of government in their respective countries”.

Having obtained his certificate (along with fellow-Trinidadian and future judge Jim Davis), Edoo wrote: “About the middle of 1963 we returned to Trinidad on the vessel Golfito, a ‘banana boat’ which sailed out of Southampton. The Golfito and her sister ship, the Camito, were banana boats which carried 100 passengers each. They stopped at Barbados and Trinidad, disembarked their passengers, then sailed for Ocho Rios in Jamaica, loaded their cargo of bananas and then returned to England. The voyage to Trinidad took ten days.”

These ships took countless thousands of West Indians to a new life in England, which Selvon would write about in his novel The Lonely Londoners.

The following year, Edoo was appointed Assistant Registrar of the Supreme Court in San Fernando and obtained government quarters on Circular Road in San Fernando.

He wrote: “The adjacent quarters were provided for State Counsel who prosecuted in the Assizes in San Fernando. Harold Koylass and later Clebert Brooks were my neighbours. They both became High Court judges. On the other side, Dr Harry Collymore and his wife occupied quarters.” (In 1964, Collymore founded what would later be known as the National Centre for Persons with Disabilities).

Edoo, in 1967, was offered a British Council scholarship to England to study legal drafting and international law. Even then, he wrote, Sir Vidya Naipaul was already being celebrated as one of the best writers of the English language.

Back home, Edoo was promoted to the post of Deputy Registrar in Port of Spain in 1970,

recounting: “I travelled the single lane ‘old road’ to Port of Spain for approximately eight years in congested conditions. The new double lane (Solomon Hochoy) highway was not yet built. I would leave home very early and would be the first one in the office.

“The Deputy Registrar’s chambers were situated at the south-eastern corner of the Parliament building, the Red House. One morning in April 1970, I arrived at the office very early as usual. I saw soldiers closing off the public square, Woodford Square, opposite the Red House and soon afterwards I heard a stomping and a commotion. When I looked out I saw soldiers taking up positions in the gallery leading to my office. I contacted Mr Justice Corbin, who was then the senior judge at the Red House. He instructed me to close the Registry. The same thing happened the following day. The 1970 mutiny had begun.”

In 1973, Justice Isaac Hyatali, who was seconded from the Court of Appeal and who became the first president of the Industrial Court, was appointed as Chief Justice.

Hyatali appointed a committee, of which Edoo was part, to revise the Rules of the Supreme Court. (Hyatali, who was chairman of the Elections and Boundaries Commision (EBC), died in 2000).

Edoo, as executive member of the Anjuman Sunnat ul Jamaat Association (ASJA), the leading Muslim organisation in Trinidad and Tobago, also helped prepare a constitution for ASJA and rules and regulations for the operation of the Divorce Councils for the three existing Muslim organisations, both of which are used to this day.

In the late 1970s, Edoo, appointed chairman of the San Fernando Rent Board, entered private practice, doing work for Kelshall and Company since “Mr Basdeo Panday, who was their standing counsel, had taken a leave of absence in order to devote himself to the sugar union, of which he was president” and for Dr Fenton Ramsahoye “to prepare the bill of costs for a percentage for Mr Ramesh Maharaj, who was successful in his constitutional motion before the Privy Council”.

Edoo was appointed a High Court judge in February 1980 until 1986 when promoted to the Court of Appeal.

He wrote: “During my tenure in the High Court I sat in the Chamber Court, the Civil Court and the Criminal Court. I had delivered close to 200 written judgements, most of which are in the library of the Supreme Court. Some of my judgements have been reported in the West Indian Reports, the Commonwealth Law Reports and some which had reached the Privy Council in the English Reports.”

He wrote about a visit to Hong Kong where he dined with Lady Hochoy, the widow of Sir Solomon Hochoy, hosted by a “Mr Chin, who was a judge in the Hong Kong High Court. Mr Chin had qualified in England as a barrister-at-law and was for some time in Mr Frank Misir’s (who would later become Queen’s Counsel and High Court judge) chambers in San Fernando before he left for Hong Kong. His family owned a dry goods establishment in Debe in Trinidad. Mr Chin was the Honorary Consul for Trinidad and Tobago in Hong Kong. He was later fired by fax by Prime Minister Patrick Manning”.

Edoo recalled going to India on judicial contact in 1985.

“On the evening before we left, a reception was held at the High Commission in our honour. In conversation with the First Secretary, I asked him how our customs, which had been brought by our ancestors, compare with those of India. His response was that we were 50 years behind.”

He wrote of falling ill in India and being visited by a doctor who introduced himself as a relative of Ram Kirpalani, the late Trinidadian business magnate.

And he made an observation that rings true to this day.

“Indians on the whole have a love/hate relationship with the British. On the one hand they complained of the subjugation and humiliating treatment meted out to them. On the other hand they praised the legacy left to them of good systems of government and discipline, as well as laws and legal institutions.”

Edoo retired from the Court of Appeal in February 1991 and was appointed by President Noor Hassanali as Ombudsman, moving into an office in St Ann’s at the back of the Prime Minister’s residence and Botanic Gardens, in a building previously occupied by the Minister for West Indian Affairs.

It was he who introduced an outreach programme whereby an investigator visits various locations throughout the country to hear complaints and assisting members of the public, and also established a permanent office in Tobago.

In 2006, Edoo retired as Ombudsman at age 80, having entered public service in 1945.

The final words of his memoir, a copy of which has been requested by the Supreme Court for its library, are these:

“I had entered the Public Service in colonial days when aspiration and access to high office both in the public and private sectors was restricted and seemed unattainable. I was fortunate to have attained high public office. I had not set out to achieve high public office. It is possible now for anyone to achieve high office in the public as well as the private sector through dedication and hard work.”

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