COLUMN-Lawyer with a love for people
Name: Rommel St Hill.
Education: St John’s Primary, Harrison College, University of the West Indies, Hugh Wooding Law School.
Qualifications: LL.B (Law) Hons; MSc in international trade policy; professional certification in financial and contractual procedures of the European Development Fund.
Currently pursuing LLM in legislative drafting.
If you had to introduce yourself to the world, what would you say?
I am Rommel, the St Hill from St John, the lawyer with a love for development of his people and his nation.
What peaks your interest?
I have a variety of interests that mainly centre on youth and social development, international and regional economic law and development policy, international politics, community service and diplomacy.
What influenced you to pursue a career in law?
Growing up in St John, I saw some injustices, and the absence of recourse the average person experienced when faced with certain situations. As a result of those problems, I knew that my people needed a voice, an advocate, a champion against injustice to protect the rights of the underprivileged and to inspire others.
I worked towards that, and by 23 I was called to the Bar, and, oddly enough, from the weekend after the call I was able to begin making the contribution I set out to achieve.
What was the experience like working as an associate in the Thompson & Associates law firm under the late Prime Minister David J.H. Thompson, QC?
It was truly a career-defining experience. David had been a family friend for years, and it was through his law firm, his kindness and closeness to the people of St John that I made my mark in practice; and it was good to have a senior to emulate in that regard.
It is there that I gained an interest in politics, as the law firm offered the unique experience of seeing Press conferences, the planning and unfolding of political strategy and speeches, and political content first-hand.
You received the David Thompson Award in recognition of your contribution to the legal profession. In what ways have you contributed to the profession?
Firstly, I would say that I was very humbled by the nomination for and receipt of the award. It stemmed from the fact that I saw the mission from a young age, and from the time I left Harrison College I worked towards my goal.
As a student, I worked as a case law report editor at the Cave Hill Law Library, helping in the editing and formatting of cases for the online legal database CariLaw, so that practitioners would have easier access to regional cases.
I chose to do my internship at the Office Of The Attorney General so that I would have the right contacts in the Public Service to get things done effectively when I started to practise. But primarily the award was given due to my service to the community.
I have had to stand up amicus curiae in court for persons in trouble, and have secured second chances for them, saving them from being lost away in the justice system. I have even had people come to my house at 5 a.m. and I have assisted however I could.
Many of these times were without payment, because for me the administering of justice has always been paramount.
When I received the David Thompson Award, I was at that time the legal counsel for the National Housing Corporation, where we worked hard as a team, expeditiously conveying the most properties in a single period in the NHC’s history, as well as the negotiation of projects and contracts. But I still found the time to assist the average person who could not afford to pay rent because of hard times with payment plans, which they appreciated and made a greater effort to pay. Therefore, the corporation began to gain income it had not been receiving in decades.
Additionally, I consistently leant my voice and writings to regional and international legal issues.
Tell us about your current post at the CARICOM Secretariat and what it entails.
I am currently the senior legal officer, legal and institutional framework, of the CARICOM Secretariat. I assist in the management and execution of all legal matters relating to the CARICOM Single Market and Economy and the Economic Integration Programme. Additionally I deal with European Development Fund contracts, legal advice relating to the Revised Treaty Of Chaguaramas, all related trade and economic matters, Government procurement, e-commerce, Freedom of Movement Regimes, and represent CARICOM before the Caribbean Court of Justice.
Share with us your areas of legal practice.
Primarily I am an advocate, both in the courtroom and outside, as I enjoy the cut and thrust of litigation; but if a problem can be solved outside of court, that is always my initial step.
I have done personal injury claims, debt recovery, criminal law, contracts and corporate finance, family law, conveyance and other real estate property issues, Caribbean integration law, revenue law and international economic law.
If you were an animal, which one would you be, and why?
A horse. No other animal has had as important a place amongst mankind in the past 3,000 years; and it represents the three attributes I live by: strength, wisdom and beauty –– strength in its speed and power, wisdom in its directness and loyalty, and beauty as epitomized in the horse’s striding magnificence that is God’s handiwork.
All of these characteristics highlight a hard-working animal; and wherever I am, I make myself the workhorse of the team.
Why did you pursue a Master’s in international trade policy?
Throughout my studies I gained a liking for international law, and regional integration law in particular.
I noticed there was a need for more trade specialists in this region, and, with a mix of a legal and social science background, it would allow for real-time advice instead of relying on a set of consultants who understood primarily economic forecasting, quantitative analysis and statistics and another who were only concerned with developing a legal framework, as the convergence would usually miss the policy directive if a person did not have a knowledge of both areas.
Therefore, this legal-economic realm would be the new type of trade lawyer –– pretty much in the same vein that many accounts and corporate finance managers also have degrees in law. These skills are invaluable when negotiating treaties, participating in international advocacy and seeking trade and export opportunities for the region to exploit.
We currently do not maximize the benefits under the Cotonou or Economic Partnership Agreement, with the latter specifically having liberalization areas that may eventually affect our own markets, whilst we are missing export opportunities that have duty-free market access, due to lack of knowledge of the existence of the areas or lack of technical assistance to enter these markets and be truly effective.
What relationship have you had with the Council For Trade and Economic Development (COTED) and the Inter-Governmental Task Force associated with CARICOM?
I represented the Office Of The General Counsel at both of these high-level meetings and they were truly career-defining moments. To be at the head table with the ministers and ambassadors of CARICOM member states, including some who taught me, was humbling, and it involved discussing trade and economic development, creating new business opportunities for diversification and macroeconomic convergence, finalizing areas on the freedom of movement regimes.
And, providing the relevant legal advice in that real-time setting feels as if you have at least paid back the Government’s investment made on your education; and the returns from thereon can only be more fruitful.
Why were you in Geneva, Switzerland, Ferney-Voltaire, France and Turkey?
As part of the Master’s in international trade policy programme. We had to complete studies and internships relating to the major international trade institutions.
The institutions I chose were the World Trade Organization, the United Nations Committee On Trade And Development, and the Barbados Mission to Geneva.
In 2013, I was chosen to represent the region in Ankara, Turkey, at a programme of the Global Diplomatic Forum called the Young Diplomats Forum, designed to identify and train the next generation of world leaders. I made a presentation on the Role Of Regional Organizations In Diplomacy and highlighted the CARICOM region and even the role of Rihanna in diplomacy, which was very well received, and resulted in invaluable international connections across the world.
If you had the opportunity to choose any job or role in the world, what would it be and why?
My role would be that of the common man, who realizes what potential he has to effect world change . . . . For, the common man, when enlightened, is the most powerful creature on this planet.
Name three books you would encourage people to read.
Barack Obama’s Dreams Of My Father, The Great Controversy by E.G White, and Inferno by Dan Brown
Do you see the cup as half-full or half-empty?
Half-empty, because it is not full. And if we do not seize the day to make the glass full, it will surely become empty.
Tell us about your experience in the Democratic Labour Party.
Inspired by the annual conference of 2007, I joined the DLP and the Young Democrats in 2008. I rose to the position of president of the Young Democrats in 2008.
It is a progressive youth organization which many influential Barbadians today have passed through –– even members of the current Opposition. I became reinvolved in the executive for 2012-2013 and, as we had done in 2008, we performed our political strategy, which provided exposure for the next generation of young politicians.
It was one of the turning points of the 2013 election as some pundits had predicted we would have lost.
As I am reaching the evening of my days as a Young Dem, we ensure that there is generational continuance and we mentor the younger members, as the older persons mentored and still continue to mentor us.
The group also provides a good practical education in political strategy and academic advancement of its members, including a scholarship fund, which I plan to donate a prize to in the near future.
I have been finance committee chairperson of the St John Constituency Council, and a former chairman of the St John Parish Independence Committee.
Share with us your areas of international trade policy practice and your experience in trade.
The areas I have been trained and involved in are competition law and policy, international trade theory and policy (international economics), international negotiations and advocacy, trade in goods-market access, international trade in services, trade and tourism, quantitative methods for trade policy analysis, international trade law and regional integration and development.
I assisted in the development of the EPA training briefs in conjunction with the Barbados private sector trade team for select goods and services for use by CARIFORUM businesses to facilitate information regarding access provided by the Economic Partnership Agreement signed with the European Union.
I also assisted in the Direct Grant/Assistance Scheme at the Caribbean Export Development Agency and preparation of market intelligence briefs, as well as quantitative studies measuring the effectiveness of said scheme, and provided legal advice for the relevant trade and economic policy development divisions of CARICOM.
Why pursue another Master’s degree, and why in legislative drafting?
Whilst legal drafting and interpretation are mandatory areas at law school in order to be called to the Bar, there is a lack of draftsmen in the region. Drafting is necessary at an advanced level to create legislative frameworks to effectively administer policies, as well as to harmonize and unify laws keeping in mind the unique nature of each jurisdiction you may be drafting for.
Therefore I am pursuing it in order to further enhance the training I have already received.
Outside of your degrees, do you have other qualifications?
Legal Education Certificate; Alternative Dispute Resolution Certificate; Certificate Of Participation In The United Nations Committee On Trade And Development; the World Trade Organization, International Trade Centre And World Intellectual Property Organization Study Tour . . . .
I also have musical qualifications at CXC and the Royal Associated Board School of Music.
Who has contributed to your success?
God, my mother and, by extension, my family, my church and the kindness of strangers.
Do you have a vision for Barbados, and would you share it with us?
My vision is a restructured Barbados, with diversification in its industries –– a nation of innovators and entrepreneurs aggressively seeking export opportunities of goods and services, and moving throughout the region, using the resources in other countries, which we lack, to develop their industries but to benefit ours as well.
For example, using land space in Guyana for food and livestock to lower the food imports from North America; that when public procurement goes regional, consultants within the scope of goods, services and work look for the relevant opportunities, as at the end of the day it is business and not just simply an integration exercise; that Barbados will realize its full potential as the hub of the Western Hemisphere.
That when the cost and time of doing business are reduced, Barbados is competitively driven to be the best it can be, and despite its small size seek to compensate for what it lacks in other markets, such as owning and utilizing resources in other countries, to help its competitive advantage.
That when transportation is sorted we will be able to travel more cheaply and perhaps link up with other territories to provide a more complete Caribbean tourism experience, with our tour operators and managers playing a significant role in the world-class Caribbean theme park spread across the jurisdictions, rivalling any others across the world.
And finally a Barbados where the consumers finally stand up to the merchants and begin as a body to demand that the cost of living is brought down. Restructured and diversified, we will finally be able to withstand recessions as one of the leading countries of alternative energy; but, of course, these have to be managed carefully and implemented over the long term.
All work and no play make Jack a dull boy. Do you play?
I was somewhat of a musical prodigy as a child, being an assistant organist at age 11, and becoming the organist of the Fulnec Moravian Church at age 17 for about 12 years after.
I also enjoy kickboxing and wrestling, and play Division 3 football.
What advice would you give to young men?
Life isn’t easy; but you have to make what you can of it. Believe in yourself and never give up on what is most important to you.