Rasta rises to the BarAttorney at law Hilford Murrell greeting his Vincentian colleague Carl Williams at Grantley Adams International Airport. (Maria Bradshaw)
By Maria Bradshaw | Sun, June 10, 2012 - 12:04 AM
HE SOLD fruits and vegetables on the streets of Kingstown, St Vincent, for several years but these days Carl Williams, a Rastafarian, is a high-flying lawyer.
Since 2007, Williams has been working as a Crown Counsel in the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
While many Vincentians still stare in awe whenever he walks into a courtroom, with his long locks tied neatly in a ponytail, Williams feels “no way” about holding the distinction of being the first Rastafarian lawyer in his country.
“When I was called to the bar it made headline news in St Vincent. The nation was shocked to see a Rasta, whom people regarded as a madman, being admitted to the bar. But once a man is alive he can achieve anything,” he told the SUNDAY SUN during an interview while he was on a recent trip to Barbados.
Before donning the coveted black robe, Williams, 53, spent the majority of his life selling fruits and vegetables from a stall in Kingstown, the capital.
“I got into it because of my love for the soil. I loved planting and from the time I finished school I was into planting,” he said.
And it was while sitting at his stall that he also decided to pursue a law degree because of his love for justice.
“I decided in the 1990s to take up the challenge and do the University of London’s external programme, using funds which I saved from hustling on the streets.
“Most of my studies were done on the streets. When I got home at night I would read notes into a cassette recorder and during the day while I was selling, I would listen to those notes.”
It was at those times that Williams found himself being taunted by his peers, who could not understand why he was listening to his own voice on tape instead of blasting popular reggae music from his stall.
“It appeared to persons that I was a madman,” he said. “They couldn’t understand why I was listening to someone talking on a cassette radio. They would look at me as if I was crazy.”
Unfazed by the negative reaction, Williams persevered and in 2002 passed his degree with honours.
He then landed a job as an administrative cadet – a researcher – in the Attorney General’s chambers.
Then in 2005 he decided to enrol at Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago for his LLB after which he became a full-fledged lawyer.
The soft-spoken Williams said that even from an early age he had defied convention.
Schooled at St Vincent Boys Grammar School – one of the top secondary schools there – he recalled that he was the first boy to wear his hair in locks to school.
“The principal at the time suspended me but he said (it was) not for my locks but because my beard was too long, but there were other boys at school who had beards as well,” he recalled.
“I knew it was because I was a Rastafarian but I did not cut my hair, neither my beard, and I went back to school until I reached sixth form.”
He is acutely aware that some people still hold “grudges and prejudices” against him because of his controversial lifestyle but Williams has been determined to carry the same commitment and honesty which he displayed selling fruits and vegetables into the courtroom.
“Generally, people are coming to grips with it. I may not be popular for my candid and unbiased opinions but surely the judges in the High Court and the Court of Appeal have seemingly come to think that what I am saying certainly makes sense, because I seem to find favour with the judges most of the time when I express my opinion on certain issues.”
There have been a few occasions where he has recused himself from prosecuting a case because he knew the accused, but he argued that his role was not to secure a conviction or revel in winning cases.
“The fact that I may know a person would not prevent me from being fair and just in prosecuting that person because for me, prosecuting is not about securing a conviction – it is about being fair and just; and no matter how notorious a criminal may be, the law asserts that a man is presumed to be innocent until the contrary is proven,” he said.
Only my best
As a strong believer in human rights and rehabilitation, he says he is keen to give the best representation, not only to the victim but also the person who committed the crime.
“I always have to be thinking about striking the balance. I am not just thinking about the rights of the persons who have suffered at the hands of criminals but also the rights of the same criminal elements.”
The father of six said he felt proud of being a positive role model for his children, three of whom are studying medicine and one who has shown an interest in law.
Williams has no intention of disregarding his roots or giving up his Rastafarian religion.
“I can go anywhere in the ghetto, day or night, because I get that kind of respect. My friends are not necessarily lawyers like myself because I would never cast aside my Rastafarian brethren.”
He has now set his sights on going into private practice at some time.
Now he is applying for the vacant post of Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions.
Next July he will be back in Barbados to walk down the aisle with his Barbadian sweetheart.
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