The country lost two legal luminaries earlier this month — retired Judges Prem Persaud and Nandram Kissoon. They were in a sort of way legal institutions serving the nation for decades on the bench and in other capacities. They were eminent and respected Justices known not only in their homeland but in the Caribbean region and in the Guyanese diaspora. They had tremendous knowledge of the law and great skills on the bench as lawyers told me. Hardly anyone could be more worthy of being lawyers and judges than them. Lawyers are inspired by their eloquence, and tributes came in from the Bar, many among those who practiced with or before them, as well as colleagues on the bench and current judges.
I was fortunate to meet both separately long after they left the bench. They were very pleased to meet me and showered accolades for my writing, taking courageous positions against governments, and polling.
I was left in awe by their legal knowledge and sharpness in thought even in their final days. They were extremely bright and well read on the law (of legal judgments at the Privy Council, UK Supreme Court, and the supreme courts in India, Australia and elsewhere). They rattled off rulings of precedent setting cases in the UK and India. They were familiar with all the tall figures in law in India such as late Judge Singhvi and late senior advocate and law minister Ram Jethmalani.
I was also dumbstruck by the depth of knowledge of Hinduism, its many scriptures and its philosophical underpinnings, of Shri Nandram Kissoon. He, like his politician brother Jailall, was distinguished from so many other Indian intellectuals by his depth of knowledge of Hinduism and Indian political thought. I have not come across many who knew the Hindu scriptures as well as him and his brother Jailall — absolutely brilliant scholars in the Hindu scriptures and philosophy and on Indian political thought and Hindu social thinkers. They mentioned names of some outstanding Indian political thinkers.
Shri Prem and Nandram served at a time during the authoritarian Burnham and Hoyte eras when judges were pressured to render judgments in favor of the government. It was not easy for judges to rule against the government, but I can’t recollect of any bad decisions. It was most difficult to push back against executive insolence, corruption, and incompetence. As best as I could remember and from what lawyers who practiced before them said the duo did not compromise their integrity. They were opposed to the dictatorship but could not show their hands for fear of being victimized. They were praiseworthy of those of us in the diaspora who championed free and fair elections in Guyana and who lobbied international community to help restore democratic rule in Guyana. They praised our activism and the courage displayed to combat Burnhamism. They talked contemporary politics with me although they were not interested in giving public views of our current crop of politicians. Excepted for a couple politicians, they have nothing praiseworthy to say about them or the profession itself. In a sort of way, they feel contemporary politicians have brought disrepute to politics.
Prem Persaud and Nandram Kissoon were very warm and friendly to me and revealed a lot about certain individuals including on Cheddi Jagan and current politicians. Some of their views will remain confidential.
Prem Persaud had a lot of institutional knowledge of politics as well as culture. Some time ago Dr Baytoram Ramharack had started writing the biography of Mr Prashad who founded Prashad Nagar. I suggested he spoke with Prem Persaud, son in law of Prashad. I informed Prem Persaud to expect a call from Dr Ramharack. Prem was very helpful with information and the biography is now at press and will be out soon. Nandram invited me to his farm in Hope to enjoy fruits and other produce, but I never found time as I was always tied up with one research project or another.
Prem Persaud and Nandram Kissoon will be long remembered for their warmth, friendliness, incisive thinking, and intellect and competence in law. My belated sympathy to their families.