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Norman Washington Manley – role model par excellence

K CHURCHILL
NEITA, QC

Sunday, November 10, 2019

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This year marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Norman Washington Manley. At the time of his passing the excellence he achieved in his roles as scholar, athlete, legal luminary, architect and builder of modern Jamaica earned him the plaudits of contemporaries at home and abroad. The assessment of The London Times was that “Mr Norman Manley distinguished himself in everything he undertook. His abilities as a lawyer, as a politician and in youth, an athlete, were outstanding...Manley established himself firmly as the most distinguished advocate in the West Indies...”

For The New York Times Manley was “one of the most prominent statesmen of the West Indies”.

Norman Manley's sustained pursuit of excellence began as a student at Jamaica College. The record of his achievements listed in the school magazine in his final year read: “Monitor; captain of football and sports; vice-captain of cricket; secretary of the rifle club; candidate for the Rhodes Scholarship; excellent forward; unmatched in running, jumping, and hurdling; very good bowler, good batsman; excellent shot he excelled in all our athletics. His academics were as brilliant as his athletics... four out of his five mathematical papers were distinguished and the school was confident that his proxime accessit for the Rhodes Scholarship would lead to the scholarship itself.”

Manley went on to win the Rhodes Scholarship.

This year also marks the centenary of Norman Manley's return to Oxford University after his distinguished war service which earned him a first-class honours in the Bar finals and later recalled that in his preparation he was “familiar with the decisions in no less than 1,000 leading cases which he could cite from memory to illustrate important principles in various branches of the law”. He next completed the two-year Bachelor of Civil Law course at Jesus College in just six months, again taking first-cass honours. He also won the Lee Prizeman Award at Gray's Inn in an essay competition.

Norman Manley returned to Jamaica in 1922 and was admitted as the 12th member of the Jamaican Bar. He recalled that for his first case, “I spent one month studying the case... and knew every line and letter of the evidence by heart. I had cross-examined on paper every witness... and filled about three volumes of notebooks. I had written out opening and closing addresses on different assumptions... before looking glasses... and opened the case to the jury at least 10 times before the looking glass and closed it.”

Norman Manley's physical and intellectual stamina were amazing. His protégé, Vivian Blake, recalls that after a week's work Manley would, on a typical Sunday, “spend the entire morning in the Supreme Court library... and be off by lunchtime to various rural areas to address political meetings and rallies.

“Very rarely would he return to Drumblair before 11:00 pm, and then study his brief for the following day... As his junior, I attended pretrial conferences at Drumblair which often began at midnight and ended at 3:00 am. I can never forget that on one occasion when a conference ended at 3:00 am, I was asked to accompany him to a cow shed... to hold a torch while he inspected two sick calves.”

Norman Manley's climb to the leadership of the Jamaican Bar was indeed spectacular, and I would advise every law student to take careful note of what he said attributed to his success: “I had an absolutely egotistic determination to win every case I was engaged in, which I regard as the most critical attribute of an advocate... a total will to win, so that you stop at nothing but deal with maximum concentration, maximum personal observation, maximum study, maximum everything.”

I will now cite two of his spectacular successes which demonstrate this approach. The first is the Alexander murder case in which the Crown's expert witness the island's chemist compared bullets from the accused man's revolver with the bullets which killed Elias Alexander, and established 10 characteristics common to both sets of bullets. He then went on to state that “The possibility of a bullet from another revolver being singularly marked with those 10 characteristics was one in 100 trillion.”

Norman Manley was not convinced, and, in the privacy of his home along with his brother-in-law and a friend, spent endless hours firing rounds of ammunition from a revolver into a tank of water and a wall made from plasticine. His persistence was rewarded when he finally found a bullet with markings identical to those fired from the accused man's firearm. Manley won the case and the judge was moved to say: “Genius is the capacity to take infinite pains, and Mr Manley has amply demonstrated that quality.”

In the second case, Manley was asked to travel to England to defend a Jamaican, Donald Beard, who was charged with murder. The celebrated aan-Africanist, Ras Makonnen, wrote about the case in his memoirs: “It was a most spectacular trial... Manley was so methodical. The judge had to stop the case and admitted publicly that since the days of the great Bannerman he had never seen such a brilliant performance.” Beard was acquitted.

Manley had been practising for two months less than 10 years when he was invited to take silk. He did not apply for it and the precedent established in Jamaica was that it took at least 15 years to achieve such an honour. Over time, Manley's successes demoralised even the legal arm of the colonial state. A labour advisor in a minute to the colonial secretary explained the series of cases lost by the State: “Whenever a man in this country gets into trouble he flies first to Mr Manley and if Mr Manley is already retained he flees to Cuba.”

In the general elections of 1955 Norman Manley led the People's National Party to victory. On being sworn in as chief minister Manley had this to say: “All my life I have carried responsibilities on my shoulder. I have spent my life on many cases and now I turn my back for good and all on that life and take into my hands the case of the people of Jamaica, before the Bar of history, against poverty and need the case of my country for a better life and freedom in our land.”

Norman Manley was as good as his word. As chief minister he presided over the making of modern Jamaica. Between 1955 and 1962, annual average GDP growth was over seven per cent. The 1957 reform of education established the College of Arts, Science and Technology (CAST now UTech) and modernised the curriculum in technical high schools to provide the labour force required for two critical new sectors of the economy mining and manufacturing. The introduction of the Common Entrance Examination increased secondary enrolment by 400 per cent. The Negril Highway opened up the Negril Morass to add a new dimension to Jamaica's tourism product. By 1962 Jamaica had become the leader of the developing world.

In 1938, at the founding conference of the PNP, Norman Manley declared the party's mission of political independence for Jamaica. He was the prime mover of every constitutional advance Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944; ministerial government in 1953; and internal self-government in 1959. However, after successfully leading the negotiations for Jamaica's Independence Constitution, he lost the 1962 General Elections and was denied the opportunity he so richly deserved of becoming the first prime minister of independent Jamaica.

The end came shortly after his retirement in 1969. His iron-clad integrity had been the dominant feature of his public life. He gave up what would have been a most lucrative law practice for public service and spent his last years without the material security he was more than entitled to. He never regretted the choice he made as his farewell speech to his party confirms. “Looking back... over the years, may I declare that they have been great years. I have known all things in politics the hard way... I would not have chosen my road in life in any other way.”

A grateful nation declared him a National Hero.

Fortunately, we now have a body of published work to better inform ourselves of the life and times of this great man and the debt Jamaica owes him for sharing his life so fully with the Jamaican people. There are the Norman Manley Papers as well as his unfinished autobiography. Then there are the biographies written by Sir Phillip Sherlock and Vic Reid. The Collection of Speeches edited by Professor Rex Nettleford, together with the Edna Manley Diaries provide invaluable insights. The most recent addition to this bibliography is Arnold Bertram's Norman Manley and the Making of Modern Jamaica.

Jamaica's youth need role models to emulate. It is equally important that these role models rouse them to a realisation of the latent powers within themselves. The challenges he overcame and his sustained pursuit of excellence make Norman Manley the role model par excellence.

I therefore urge the Norman Manley Law School to take a more active role in educating the Jamaican people about one of the greatest Jamaicans of all times.

K Churchill Neita, is an eminent attorney-at-law


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