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Sir Richard’s love for law

Gercine Carter

Sir Richard’s love for law

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The name Richard Cheltenham, QC, appears in the 2010 publication Who’s Who Legal. The top Barbadian attorney is listed  among 475 experts from 36 jurisdictions worldwide, a group considered by the publication as “the International who’s who of business crime defence lawyers”.It is global recognition of the ability of a man whose legal prowess has attracted attention at home and abroad.Today marks 40 years Sir Richard Cheltenham was called to the Bar of England and Wales and he is in his 40th year since being admitted to the Bar in Barbados.At age 69, he continues to set records. With a career path that often veered in several different directions, the reputation he built as an expert in multiple areas of law has attracted high-profile clients and brought international recognition. His services have been sought as much by the wealthy as by defendants from among the working class who staked their freedom on his expertise.In it all , the boy from St Patrick’s, Christ Church, has realised his childhood dream.“As early as age eight or ten, I had a settled ambition to become both a lawyer and a politician,” Sir Richard told the Weekend Nation, as he sat before a desk heaped with legal volumes amidst a sea of paper in his well-appointed White Park Road office.By his own account, he was influenced by the extensive reporting of civil and criminal cases before the Supreme Court in the daily newspaper, and impressed by the sharpness of legal eagles of the day – the likes of [Sir] Grantley Adams, Errol Barrow, W.W. “Jubie” Reece.“The politics was in part informed by the fact that living in rural Barbados, in the heart of the sugar belt . . . I saw poverty around me . . . I saw the opportunity through politics and law to help to improve people’s lot.” Teachers at Boys’ Foundation also identified his interest in law and politics early and encouraged it.It was in the law offices of the late Sir John “Jack” Dear and Sir Harold St John that Sir Richard really cut his legal teeth after completing  studies at Manchester University in London. He had returned to Barbados with a PhD and a degree of the Utter Bar, thus achieving the first and major part of his boyhood ambition.In less than nine months after returning to Barbados, he was facing the polls to contest the Christ Church East constituency.He lost to Cuthbert Edwy Talma, but platform  appearances had won him so many clients for his legal practice, that today he remarks “the morning after I could not get in my chambers, and I have never had a bad day at the bar since”.“I am very very busy even to this hour.”The Barbados Labour Party won elections in 1976, and Sir Richard, the elected MP for Christ Church East, was appointed chairman of the Industrial Development Corporation. He found himself juggling this responsibility with a hectic legal schedule as defence attorney in the Magistrates’ Courts, at the Assizes, in family law cases, in many of personal injury cases, and with a few unlawful dismissal cases in between. His reputation for success attracted many clients and a heavy workload. In the ten-year period between 1971 and 1981, 17 of Sir Richard’s cases had been recorded in the West Indies Reports, a journal of outstanding cases in the region. By then he had recorded success in several high-profile cases, including two prominent murder cases.“An interesting thing which people sometimes don’t appreciate is that I have had, and it remains so, a large practice outside of crime. In fact, I do very little crime in recent years.”Instead, these days he is primarily involved in “celebrity crime”.Yet he does not turn his back on those who occasionally seek him out for representation for routine crime.“You can’t escape that because I owe such a great debt to people who have helped me over the years . . . . I can’t charge, and I can’t say no because I am repaying them, and gladly so.” Sir Richard regards the 1991 case Ophelia King vs the Attorney General of Barbados, arising from the eight per cent salary cut for civil servants and public officials in Barbados, as his most important.  “I have never done a case where I felt that so much rested on the outcome of the case,” he reasoned.In the later years of his career, constitutional law and administrative law actions have engaged his time. He has also been counsel to several regional commissions of enquiry. Both the United States and Canadian governments retained him as their counsel for extradition matters in the Eastern Caribbean for ten years.Sir Richard has also made ten appearances before Britain’s Privy Council, the most recent in April 2010. His has become a household name in islands like St Kitts and Antigua, while his expertise continues to be sought extensively throughout the region. At home he lists the Al Barrack arbitration case, the biggest arbitation to have ever been awarded in Barbados, as his most difficult. Abroad, he successfully represented imprisoned former Ukraine president Pavlo Lazarenko in his bid to save confiscation of over $100 million by the Antigua government.He acknowledges the influence of his mentor Sir Fenton Ramsahoye, considered the doyen of Caribbean lawyers, and he regrets that many young and aspiring lawyers do not have the benefit of the kind of mentoring which he enjoyed.He cautions those aspiring to the profession: “Law and politics are a jealous and demanding mistress.”