Sir Maurice Herbert Davis
Former Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court
Sir Maurice Davis was the former Chief Justice of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court (1975 - 1980).
Early life and education
Maurice Herbert Davis was born on the 30 May 1912 in Middle Island. As a boy he attended the Basseterre Boys’ School and graduated with a Seventh Standard Certificate. At the age of fifteen he started serving as a pupil teacher at Trinity Government School. Later he became a junior civil servant and worked in the Court Registry where he first made acquaintance with a career in which he was to enjoy admirable success. During the 1937 elections, the first in 60 years, Davis assisted E. A. Evelyn, the Returning Officer in Basseterre and was actually the first person to vote in that constituency.
In 1941 Davis decided that he had to further his ambitions and went to England to study law. He was admitted as a student by the Honourable Society of the Inner Temple in London. In the space of eighteen months he passed his Bar finals examinations and was called to the English Bar. He returned to the Caribbean in 1943 and was called to the Bar in Antigua, then the seat of the Presidency of the Leeward Islands which included St. Kitts Nevis and Anguilla. It was also during that same year that he married Sylvia Kathleen Kelsick.
On his return, Davis quickly became one of the leading lawyers of St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. Among his clients was Joaquin Farara, one of the largest land owners on the island. He also handled cases involving workers, such as the one involving six union members who had picketed a bakery in town, a case he won on appeal. He especially excelled in the practice of criminal law. His work in court was described as a magnificent performance and observers noted his incisive cutting approach to his cases, his devastating cross-examination, and his hypnotic effect on juries. Davis could suggest credible scenarios that, at times won him cases.
In 1944, following the death of Joseph Matthew Sebastian, Maurice Davis served as an elected member of the Legislative Council, representing the St. Kitts Workers’ League. He was also a member of the Federal Legislative Council. Together with Joseph N. France and Robert L. Bradshaw, he had to function within the limitations imposed on the elected members by the Committee System. At the time, elected members chaired advisory committees composed mainly of English heads of departments. The elected members found that their autonomy and influence was severely limited. As a compromise, Governor Blackburne recommended the introduction of the quasi-ministerial Membership System in St. Kitts, Nevis and Anguilla. Davis served as the Member for Communications and Works. Meanwhile relations with the other representatives of the League started to deteriorate.
In 1954 the Colonial Office expressed concern that the men who were likely to serve as Ministers were also Union leaders and wanted them to choose which role they would perform. Governor Blackburne feared that the employers and intelligensia would “try to drive a wedge between parties and unions” in the islands giving rise to industrial anarchy. It was Davis who argued that the electorate had returned Union leaders in the 1952 election and that the electorate should decide the matter again in the following election.
During this period, Davis was appointed in turn legal advisor and chairperson of the Central Housing Auithority which was then engaged in the eradication of trash houses and slums in St. Kitts. Davis, also formed part of a legal team lead by Sir Courtenay Hannays, represented the Government in the case concerning the acquisition of Frigate Bay. He served as a member of the Law Library Committee, the Labour Welfare fund Committee and represented St. Kitts in the discussions that were taking place in London concerning a Federation of the West Indies.
In 1960, he faced the electorate as the leader of the People’s Progressive Movement (PPM). He was joined by other disappointed Labour supporters such as Guston Lewis and Edrick Liburd. From that platform, Davis claimed that he had run for election in 1944 because, at the time, nobody else would. He also criticised the “fanfare and trumpet blowing” over the acquisition of Frigate Bay by the Government. He pointed out that the earlier acquisition of Bayford’s had also been accompanied by promises and hopes that had not materialised because of lack of proper planning. Planning for the future became the theme of his campaign.
The PPM was not the only party opposing Labour. The Democratic Party, later the People’s Action Movement, strongly supported by the planter class was gradually gaining momentum. However unlike some of the others who had joined him in the PPM, Davis did not allow his disagreements with the Labour Party to push him into the fold of PAM. Before long he was again working with the Labour Government. In 1970, he was asked to chair the committee for the Christena Disaster Fund.
In 1975, Maurice Davis was appointed Chief Justice in the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court. His candidature was championed by Premier Robert Bradshaw and received the consent of all the premiers in the Associated States.
In 1983, following his retirement from the Bench, Sir Maurice accepted the Labour Party’s invitation to serve on the Electoral Commission. However he later tendered his resignation, claiming with total frankness and to the disappointment of the party that had nominated him, that his membership was, to him, a waste of time.
Honours and awards
Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, conferred on him the title of Knight Bachelor.
Sir Maurice died on 23 October 1988 following a prolonged illness. He was 76. He was survived by his wife, the Lady Kathleen, their son and five daughters and their families.