By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & AMMR
It is with profound sadness and a heavy heart that I learned about the passing on Monday, January 24 of one of Trinidad and Tobago’s champions for justice, my friend, retired Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Andre des Vignes.
I first became acquainted with Andre when I returned to T&T from the UK. After Synod 2003, then Archbishop Edward Gilbert CSsR appointed me as Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice (CCSJ). I needed a team of persons to work with me to establish a strong Commission.
Archbishop Charles Jason Gordon, then Fr Jason, recommended Andre, an attorney-at-law, as one of the persons who would be an asset to the Commission. He was correct. Andre willingly agreed to join our Management Committee and, from the outset, he devoted his many talents to the service of the Commission.
Although he resigned from his position on CCSJ after a few years, he was always available to give advice. He had an incisive mind and was a great reservoir of wisdom. During the past year, he worked pro bono with CCSJ/AMMR to develop and implement a virtual Legal Aid Clinic.
I shall cherish the conversations that I had with him virtually as we planned our Legal Aid Clinic sessions and engaged in evaluation at the end of each session. We will forever be grateful for his wise counsel.
Andre was appointed a puisne judge in 2009, 29 years after being admitted to the bar. He was elevated to the Court of Appeal in April 2017. A media release from the Judiciary states: “He began his early practice as a Solicitor of the Supreme Court in October 1979 and immediately joined the litigation department of a leading law firm in Port of Spain, Trinidad. During his time at this law firm, he was a solicitor and later (after fusion of the law professions) Advocate Attorney-at-Law in the areas of Civil, Corporate and Commercial Litigation and Industrial Relations. The Honourable Justice of Appeal then opted to open his own Law Chambers in April 1997.
Justice des Vignes is a trained and certified mediator in civil matters and Judicial Settlement Conferencing. The Judiciary benefitted from his considerable experience in these areas during his tenure as Chair of the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Pilot Project Monitoring Committee from April 2012 to December 2014.” He served as a member of the ADR Implementation Committee.
In 2013, he became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators of the United Kingdom and a year later completed training in the Fundamentals of Family and Divorce Mediation. Later, in September 2015, he was certified as a Judicial Trainer by the University College of London Faculty of Law Judicial Institute.
Andre has always exuded the kind of qualities that should underpin all our lives. He was a man of deep abiding faith; a compassionate man who was committed to the promotion of justice; a man of integrity; a humble, gentle, and righteous man whose amazing intellect and lofty positions did not lead him to forget about the needs of the less fortunate.
Andre did much for many. He embraced volunteerism and was a tower of strength to many groups, such as The Companions of the Transfigured Christ, and the Foundation for Human Development.
Andre’s sister-in-law, Diane Dumas, said that he was “a kind and devoted son to his parents, responsible and loving to all his siblings, involved and thoughtful to the people he encountered during the course of his life as a student at the University of the West Indies and throughout his legal career. He became a Judge but was not one to judge the fragilities of humans which drew him to serve under the guidance of Sr Paul d’ Ornellas SJC (deceased) at the Foundation for Human Development, anger management at Living Water Community’s Marion House and as an Appeal Judge.
“He was an avid marathon runner, steelpan lover, and very serious mas player. He enjoyed some jazz and had an interest in the Arts — appreciating beauty in any form. The crowning moments are his role as husband, best friend to his wife, Wendy, and adoring father to children, all of whom he silently and publicly adored and which roles he performed with grace, love, discipline, creativity, and everything he had…He tried each day to serve the God He constantly sought to know in every way. He found service to others and to his family to be the best way to do this.”
Our deepest condolences and prayers to Andre’s wife, Wendy, his children Francois, Solange and Cécile, his family, and friends. Let’s pray for the repose of Andre’s soul. Lord, he has truly been a good and faithful servant.