CLA News / CLC23 Diary by CLA Council member, Laurie Watt


Thursday 2nd– Saturday 4th March

Gwendolyn and I flew through Mumbai to Goa, courtesy of British Airways and the Indian airline, Vistara. Immigration and the transition between the terminals in Mumbai were not quick but they were untroublesome and we had plenty of time. Our arrival in Dabolim Airport in Goa was punctual and the Conference delegate meeting arrangements were like clockwork and the transfer to the Grand Hyatt Hotel was not too long.

The Grand Hyatt truly lives up to the ‘Grand’ in its name. We had a lovely room opening out onto lawns and tropical gardens, verdant and colourful in the blazing sunshine.  The picture completed by a baker’s dozen of white egrets on the lawn and who seemed quite unalarmed by our presence. The first people we met on our explorations were Brian and Jenny Speers in cheery and relaxed mode and we spent some time catching up with them.

Saturday was an easy day to acclimatise ourselves having met up with the CLA Secretariat team of Brigid, Clare, Leah, Evie, Lyndsay and Francesca the previous evening. Today we discovered the delights of the Executive lounge over in Block 7. As we were in Block 1 and the beautiful Hyatt grounds were extensive, that meant a lot of walking which was great. We walked the beach which was separated from the hotel grounds by a low wall, but an occasional guarded access. In the early evening we walked over to find Robert and Bambina Carnwath at the Executive Lounge enjoying the delights of the Indian ‘Champagne’ Sula, which we had discovered, and much enjoyed, at the last Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad in 2011 at the ubiquitous Charles Russell party at that Conference. The warm tropical evening and the gorgeous hanging lighting in the trees in the Hyatt garden was like a sort of fairy land not unlike that imagined by the film director, James Cameron, in his extraordinary first ‘Avatar’ movie. For dinner we decided to dive straight into the local cuisine at Chula, the Hotel’s restaurant serving Indian cuisine. Fine it was, too. The first Indian Restaurant – or, any restaurant for that matter, I have come across, where we had been stopped from ordering too much by the very helpful waiter who very charmingly said: ‘I think you will find that sufficient’!

Sunday 5th March

After a very ample breakfast, where we were superbly looked after by the staff in the Dining Room, rightly and simply called, for the eclecticism of its excellent fare, we went up to the Conference part of the hotel which was a easy walk straight from the Dining Room, through the very large building. The registration area was relatively empty save some of our Secretariat colleagues. Cheeringly, our number of delegates now exceeded 500.

We suddenly had a busy afternoon juggling times. Joanna Robinson, our indefatigable leader of the Young CLA group had planned an extensive day for the young lawyers. There was a variety of activities culminating in a group mentoring session in which Gwendolyn and I were scheduled to be one of the leaders, but, to which, I had promised such time as the coincident Council Meeting allowed me. The Council Meeting went fine and after the important business was concluded, with permission, I slipped out to join the mentoring session which was fun and inspiring. The group was divided up into sections of six to eight young lawyers with one mentor to each group. A big success all round, I think.

We then all had a bit of a rush to back to our rooms to prepare for the Opening Reception which took place at the Taj Resort and Convention Centre where many of our delegates were staying.  We boarded the buses for a ten minute drive to another beach over which the Taj presided. It was a classic CLC party heaving with a wonderful multicultural crowd from every corner of the Commonwealth. There was music provided by a small ensemble of tabla and Indian flute which was enjoyable and very local. There was also a short display of spectacular dancing to a deafening accompaniment. The food was good and plentiful, if not quite hitting the dizzy heights of the Hyatt cuisine.

Monday 6th March

Today started less well with me tripping on a rucked mat at the entrance to the building, on the way in to breakfast, falling flat on my face, although to no lasting damage – shaken but not stirred one might say. Today is the Opening Ceremony and most impressive was the big Conference Main Hall – well done, Meetings and More and Leah Almeida. There had been much juggling of who was to be on the stage which, large as it was, looked just big enough to fit everyone on. We had a number is speeches, some of which were longer than others. The longest and most numerous record is still held by Jamaica in 1986 – another wonderful Conference.

Before today’s sessions we were treated to a Plenary Session presided over by The Right Honourable Patricia Scotland, the Secretary General of the Commonwealth. Patricia is a regular and very welcome attender at these Commonwealth Law Conferences. She clearly enjoys them and it is always a pleasure to see her with us in a relaxed mode.  We were especially privileged at this Conference because it coincided with a particular hectic schedule that she had, yet she still insisted in attending and giving her keynote talk celebrating the 20 years of the Latimer House Principle on the independence of the three branches of government.

Following the plenary, there were some very good sessions, which all started a bit late because of the over-running opening ceremony. I attended the one on Slavery whose most distinguished contribution was from Thomas Roe QC who looked back on the historical position as it related to the present day and culture of rewriting history which is becoming increasingly pervasive. Lunchtime was a bit confused because many of us found ourselves diverted down to the Dining Room with rather long queues, only to discover that lunch was also served in the Conference Centre as well, without the queues.

On this evening the Bar Council were having an entertaining India V UK friendly moot where the judges drew and sought a vote from the audience whose result I forget but which was subsumed by much enjoyable banter. From there we were all directed to the drinks at the Pool Bar where we all gathered. It was good to meet Robin Egerton from Hong Kong after a gap of many years. Robin, before switching to the Hong Kong Bar, had been a partner at Hampton Winter & Glynn, with whom we had been associated for some years there. His wise words about the unsettled situation in Hong Kong were “Do not believe everything you read about Hong Kong”!

Gwendolyn and I together with the Carnwaths, and Anthony and Marie Crocker, duly ended up at the Executive Lounge and glasses of chilled Sula ‘Champagne’!

Tuesday 7th March

Today the first full day of sessions in our five streams followed the Plenary on the subject of Living Lands which was led by my old CLA friend, Fiona McLeod, who was joined by our LexisNexis Award winner (her award being announced at the last session at the Closing Ceremony on Thursday), Melinda Janki who spoke, movingly, of her work in Guyana fighting the encroachment of those seeking to exploit the recently discovered oil and gas reserves off the Guyana coast, in this case, Exxon. We also had a short presentation by the President of the Sabah law Society who urged us all to attend the forthcoming Sabah Conference in Malaysia and presented a video about its attractions.

I joined the session in which my betrothed, Gwendolyn, was participating this morning on the subject of ‘Lawyers’ mental health’ and the effects of working from home and on zoom. This was a well attended session. It was chaired by Jayna Kothari from India and Gwendolyn shared the platform with Neliswa Tjahikka from Namibia, and it was all very well received.

This evening was the long held, traditional, Charles Russell Speechlys Conference party. This party has taken place at every Commonwealth Law Conference since the first one which I attended and was in Hong Kong in 1983. It was, however, touch and go, right to the last minute as to whether this would take place. At the final moment John Almeida was able to link up with 3 Hare Court Chambers with whose members John and his team do so much work for the Commonwealth Governments in the higher courts. It was a jolly affair and held at the Cidade de Goa Hotel, again around the bay and close to, in fact, down the hill, from the Taj Hotel where the Opening Reception was held. Here we, of course, had Sula ‘Champagne’, plus cocktails, and ‘canapés with a Portuguese Goan flair’, as the invitation put it! We missed poor Mark Stephens who had been floored by illness  although thankfully, he made quite a quick recovery, with the help of the local Emergency Room.  When G and I returned, late, to the Hyatt and walked through the gardens to our room, we found major operations already getting ready for the big Conference Gala Dinner for the following night.

Wednesday 8th March

Today we had the International Women’s Day Breakfast which I gathered went very well. It was followed by an important Plenary chaired by the recently retired Chief Justice for Northern Ireland, The Right Hon Sir Declan Morgan who was a regular and very welcome attender at these Conferences. The subject was the Independence of the Judiciary and its safeguarding. We had some excellent speeches and everyone kept to time!

Today was another full day of sessions. There were two stand out sessions which I attended. One was on Abolishing the Death Penalty where much revolved around the arguments for and against, whilst statistically it was apparent that whilst maintaining the death penalty, only a tiny minority of nations who did so, actually carried it out. The other was on the other side of the coin of ‘death’. This was on the subject of the ‘Right to Death with Dignity’. This was a fascinating discussion with two particularly impressive contributions from Sir Robert Francis KC and a South African Lawyer, the fascinating and gravel voiced Professor David McQuoid- Mason.

The evening we had the Gala Dinner and a very splendid and colourful affair it was as well. Dress was “Whatever makes you comfortable or National Dress” with interesting and wide-ranging results! Sparkling wine, thankfully, was served as well as the normal selection of red, white and pink. The food was wonderful: a huge spread of tables groaning under the weight of the glorious and opulent buffet. The weather during this week had been lovely, but it had become increasingly humid which was quite noticeable this evening, although not oppressively so.

Thursday 9th March

Today is the last day of the Conference. We started with sessions which took a bit of a while to get going, our lateness being a tribute to the success of the previous evening. In any event people trickled in and having chosen to attend the session on “Constitutions: Evolution or Circumscription” in the main plenary hall, it took a while to the hall fill up which it did quite substantially. I had had some entertainment writing the descriptor for the session!  It was a first class session although did not actually reach any particular consensus on the choice in the title.

Following the coffee break, we all returned to the same room for our fourth plenary session which was the 2nd Soli Sorabjee Memorial Lecture. This was delivered for us by Mr Justice D.Y.Chandrachud, the Chief Justice of India. Disappointingly he had not been able to join us physically in person, but he was in person, in full screen, via Zoom and gave a superb talk which was followed by questions which he stayed to answer. I very much hope that a transcript of this will be available for those who would like to receive it.

The Closing Ceremony

Difficult to know how to describe this as everything hitherto had all gone so smoothly and well. Suffice it to say, perhaps, that it all started off fine as we proceeded through the necessary hand overs from Brian Speers, our outgoing President to Dr Peter Maynard KC, our new President. Some very nice thank you’s and gifts were made for all those, particularly to our main and most generous of Sponsors, LexisNexis. Then for the Secretariat led by Brigid Watson, our Secretary General with particular accolades to Clare Roe and Leah Almeida, who had done such a great job with the Conference. Brian was the recipient of much deserved accolades for his extended period as President, forced upon him by the extensive changes to the Constitution following the Bahamas Conference, with a beautifully produced video of encomia to him from various members of the CLA team. In turn, I was grateful and a bit embarrassed to be the subject of a very sweet video’d encomium from Colin Nichols KC for my time as Treasurer.

Our, now long time, colleague and friend, Nigel Roberts, of LexisNexis, presented the LexisNexis Rule of Law Award to the very well deserving winner, Melinda Janki from Guyana. Melinda had launched the first of a number of successful suits against the Guyanese government in relation to their offshore partnership with ExxonMobil which was not in accordance with Guyana’s strong environmental laws. She gave some moving words in gratitude to this award.

Finally, Dr Peter Maynard KC, as President, said a few words to close the Conference, which were followed by the announcement of the location of the next Commonwealth Law Conference as being Malta in 2025. This was along with a video which was slipped in as we all packed up to leave the hall.

That evening we had the Council and ExCo dinner by the sea wall with a glorious backdrop of the sunset.  It was another delicious buffet dinner although with no sparkling wine, This G and I solved by slipping into the Executive Lounge close by which we had fortuitously been located for this dinner!

Farewell to Goa.

It had been a great and a successful Conference. Many relationships had been rekindled and strengthened. We had a couple of days before departing late on the Sunday on Vistara to link up with BA in Mumbai. The transition between terminals was very alarming as I would never have believed the hoard of travellers heaving their way between terminals after 1am at the end of the weekend. Thanks to helpful airport staff we caught our BA flight with minutes to spare.

Laurie Watt

Immediate past CLA Treasurer