|Sir Fenton Harcourt Wilworth Ramsahoye, QC, SC
Former Attorney General, Guyana
Sir Fenton Harcourt Wilworth Ramsahoye was a Guyanese legal luminary, politician, and former Attorney General
Early life and education
Fenton Harcourt Wilworth Ramsahoye was born in British Guiana (now Guyana) on 20 May 1929. He was the first of seven children born to Edward Ramsahoye, a teacher, and his wife, Wilhemina, a homemaker, who taught Fenton to play the piano. After attending elementary school in West Coast Demerara he next attended Alleyne High School in Georgetown where he successfully sat his Cambridge School Certificate Exams.
After working for 5 years as a clerk in the civil service, Sir Fenton went to London in 1950 where he attended the University of London and later the London School of Economics and Political Science (as it was then called). By 1959, Sir Fenton had obtained his BA, LLB, LLM, and a PhD in Comparative Land Law. His Ph.D. thesis ‘The Development of Land Law in British Guiana’ formed the basis of the text he published in 1966 on the Roman-Dutch Land Law of Guyana which is still regarded as the classic text on the subject.
He was, on any reckoning, one of the finest legal minds ever produced in the English-speaking Caribbean. Called to the Bar at Lincoln’s Inn on 10 February 1953, Ramsahoye spent the greater part of his 65 year career as a fearless, passionate, resourceful and creative advocate who felt obliged to defend fellow Caribbean men and women against abuses of state power and violations of their constitutional rights.
Ramsahoye was at the forefront of the independence movement. In 1961, he was elected a Member of Parliament of Guyana for the Numbers One and Two Canal Polders constituency and remained in Parliament until 1973. He was the first local Attorney General of Guyana from 1961 to 1964 under the Cheddi Jagan-led People’s Progressive Party (PPP). It was as Attorney General that he introduced legislation establishing the University of Guyana. And he was a member of Board of Governors of the University of Guyana from 1962 to 1964.
Ramsahoye was appointed Senior Counsel in Guyana in 1971. From 1972 to 1975, he was Deputy Director of Legal Education for the Council of Legal Education in the West Indies and head of Hugh Wooding Law School as a professor.
Ramsahoye was a Queen’s Counsel (QC) and a member of the Bars of England and Wales, Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Jamaica, the territories of the Eastern Caribbean including Montserrat, and the British Virgin Islands.
As of 2006, he held the record for making the most appearances (over 200) before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council in the Caribbean.
In Barbados, he was involved in the “8% case” where the Sandiford Government reduced the salaries of all persons paid by the treasury by 8%. In Antigua and Barbuda, he challenged the State’s refusal to issue a broadcast license to private citizens. Because of this case, a broadcast license was issued to the Observer Radio. In Trinidad Sir Fenton successfully argued that in a multi-religious society the country’s highest honour should not be a Christian symbol. Thanks to this case, the Trinity Cross was replaced by the Order of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago as that country’s highest honour. Sir Fenton did the vast majority of his work at the bars of Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, and Antigua, though over time he appeared in cases at all the bars of the Caribbean.
Since the establishment of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in 2005 and until recently, Sir Fenton utilised his considerable legal skills in representing litigants in the region’s highest Court.
Honours and awards
Ramsahoye was made a Knight of the Order of the Nation by the State of Antigua and Barbuda in 2006 for his work on behalf of the trade union movement in Antigua where he was the principal legal advisor to the Antigua Worker’s Union for over 20 years
Ramsahoye married Phyllis Gwendolyn Lutz, the daughter of Richard Benjamin Lutz of South Australia. He was the father of two sons - Fenton Jr. and Bernard.
Sir Fenton Ramsahoye died on 27 December 2019 at the Queen’s Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados of natural causes. He was 89. His funeral service was held on Saturday, 5 January 2019 at Coral Ridge Gardens, Barbados.