Manley, The Lawyer

Everyone knows about Manley the Politician, but how many of us know about Manley the Lawyer?

The Right Excellent Norman Washington Manley, M.M, Q.C,B.C.L., LLD (Hon), was more than the legacy of a law school or international airport or museum. Born in Roxborough, Manchester on July 4th 1893 he accomplished great things throughout his lifetime, earning him the titles of Father of the Nation and National Hero.

He completed his secondary studies at The Jamaica College, thereafter going overseas to study at Jesus College, Oxford, England and later at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was first called to the Bar in 1921 and admitted to the Jamaican Bar a year later.

Norman Manley was an excellent barrister. For 33 years he was in active practice, managing to balance his legal work and the case for Jamaica’s independence, a role he took on full time in 1955 when he closed his practice and became Chief Minister of Jamaica.

Ironically Manley was a math whiz, a subject in which he showed great promise from a tender age. According to Jackie Ranston, while doing her research on Manley for her book on his legal work, she found algebra and geometry scribbled in his note books from when he was a law student and also on his court notes. His son, Michael Manley confirmed that his father had often used his mathematical skills to test theories in his cases like the Elias Alexander Murder trial, which allowed him to calculate the direction and the type of bullet that killed the deceased.

Manley was very modest and hardly spoke about his court cases except for boasting a little here and there of cases he won, as is reasonable. He was the first barrister in Jamaica to address a judge as M’lord. He was appointed many a times by the Crown to defend those who could not afford a lawyer. His very first case was given to him by the Crown. He defended Joseph Samuels, who was 16 years of age at the time who was charged with the murder of Jonathon Kirkwood. Both were employees of Inswood Sugar Estate, St.Catherine and were at odds about some mules which led to a stabbing and the death of Kirkwood. After Manley’s presentations, the judge instructed the jury on the method to be applied in reaching a verdict and restricted their decision to be one of three; murder, manslaughter or justifiable homicide. The jury returned with a manslaughter verdict warranting the defendant only 6 months imprisonment.

The majority of Manley’s cases were murder cases. However, he was a versatile barrister. One of his most publicised cases was a Vicks Trade Mark case in 1951. A Jamaican Company was accused of infringing Vicks’ trade mark by selling a product called Karsote Vaporub; Vicks had been selling a product called Vaporub since 1915. The matter went all the way to Privy Council where Manley won the case on behalf of Vicks. The Lord Chancellor was so impressed by his court style that he described his submissions as “…the best argument I have heard in a trade mark case.”

Norman Washington Manley passed in 1969. We remember him as a hero, as the father of our nation but let us also remember him for his legal legacy and the difference he made in the lives of those he represented in the court of law.

 © Peter-Gaye Bromfield 2013  


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