Sir Harold Bollers, February 5, 1915 - December 26, 2006
Stabroek News
December 31, 2006

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Sir Harold Bollers

Sir Harold Brodie Smith Bollers, Kt Bach, OR, CCH, former Chief Justice, Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission and President of the Guyana Red Cross Society, died on December 26, aged 91.

By the social standards of colonial British Guiana, Harold 'Harry' Bollers belonged to the crème de la crème. Born into the business élite, he had the best start in education, occupation and status that society could offer.

Well connected, conscientious and capable, Harry Bollers climbed the ladder of success as the colony moved towards independence, attaining the high office of chief justice, achieving the honour of knighthood and earning the esteem of his peers and the public. His quiescent retirement, lingering illness and spare means contrasted sharply with his active adolescence and conspicuous career in the courts of this country.

Harold Bollers's father, John (1869-1941), was Chairman of Brodie and Rainer Ltd of Water Street at a time when it was the country's largest drugstore. It is not unlikely that he named his son after that firm. An Incorporated Accountant and Associate of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries, John Bollers was also secretary of the British Guiana & Trinidad Mutual Fire Insurance Company, Director of G. Bettencourt & Company Ltd, member of the Georgetown Town Council and founder of Humphrey & Company, of which Harold would become a director in 1942. Business seemed to beckon the four Bollers boys - Harold and his three brothers.

Harold Brodie Smith Bollers, one of seven children, was born on February 5, 1915 in Georgetown and started his schooling at exclusive private schools - first Woodbine then Kirkpatrick's. He entered Queen's College at age 10, breezing through the next eight years, taking colours in football, and becoming captain of Raleigh House and a prefect by 1933.

After Queen's, he went up to King's College at the University of London to read law. By the age of 21, Harold Bollers had become a barrister-at-law of the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple in London and was called to the bar in Guyana in January 1938. He left for Barbados where he was admitted to the bar and practised there between April and December 1939, but returned to Guyana in 1940 and remained in private practice from January 1940 to 1945.

Surprisingly, at the threshold of his profession, he turned his back on both business and private practice, preferring to enter the prestigious but ponderous and penurious magistracy in September 1945. Thereafter, he inched along through the positions of acting Magistrate, Magistrate, Senior Magistrate and, finally, Chief Magistrate in 1959.

During this time, he also acted briefly as Registrar of the Supreme Court and High Court Judge but it was not until 1960 that he was finally appointed a Puisne Judge. With the country becoming an independent state and consequent changes in the judiciary, he was elevated to the position of Chief Justice in 1966. He retired in 1980 at the age of 65 years.

After only a brief break, however, he was appointed Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission in October of the same year, plunging deep into Guyana's acrimonious and tempestuous electoral politics. Excoriated by opposition political parties over the conduct of two elections in 1980 and 1985, and on the approach of a third which fell due in 1990 but eventually was held in 1992, he resigned under pressure in 1991.

Even as Chief Justice during the combustible 1970s and 1980s, Sir Harold Bollers had become the target of unrelenting attacks by opposition parties. For example, in a civil action brought in June 1973 by Seecomar Singh and Donald Ramlakhan against Reginald Butler, the Chief Election Officer, in an attempt to prevent the holding of general elections on July 16 that year, Chief Justice Bollers declined jurisdiction, refused the action and recommended that the plaintiffs seek their remedy in an election petition. The opposition was incensed at his unfavourable judgement.

Next, in what could be regarded as a tragic sequel to the 1973 elections in which two young People's Progressive Party (PPP) supporters were shot dead on the Corentyne, Police Constable James Henry was shot dead on July 18, 1974 close to the time of the first anniversary of the elections, and at the No 62 Village toll station, close to the scene of the 1973 shooting.

Two days later, the police arrested Arnold Rampersaud, a PPP activist, who was to undergo three highly-publicised and politicised trials during the course of which they became a cause célèbre. Chief Justice Bollers presided over the second trial and, after the jury could not agree on a verdict, ordered a third trial, again incurring the wrath of the opposition.

Appointed Chairman of the Guyana Elections Commission after leaving the bench and in the run up to the December 15, 1980 general elections, Harold Bollers was again the centre of attention. As chairman, he rejected the requests of PPP commissioners to issue directions permitting polling agents of the ruling and opposition parties to accompany the ballot boxes in the vehicles transporting the boxes to the counting centres. He ruled that such matters were for the district returning officers to determine. Again, the opposition was enraged.

After Harold Bollers retired from the commission in 1991, it was recognised that it was not the chairman who needed changing but the commission itself which needed mending. A new style commission, based on the so-called Carter-Price formula, was introduced. Even now, 15 years after Bollers's departure, problems persist and recommendations are still being made to fix the faulty commission.

A gentleman of the old school, Sir Harold Bollers was part of a cadre of jurists who transmitted the tenets, timbre and precepts of the colonial past into the post-independence period. And what times they were! Uncorrupted by graft, he served his country as best he could through his long public career. His life after leaving the commission was uneventful but his legacy was intact.

Sir Harold Bollers was a staunch Presbyterian. As the first President of the Guyana Red Cross Society (GRCS) when it was separated from the British Red Cross Society after independence, he piloted the society's programme for thirty years. For his distinguished service in the field of law, he was invested with the honour of Knight Bachelor (Kt Bach) in 1969; the Cacique's Crown of Honour (CCH) in 1982; and the Order of Roraima (OR) in 1991.

As former Chancellor Desirée Bernard was moved to remark, Sir Harold Bollers belonged to "the golden years when the Judiciary was held in high esteem and treated with respect befitting the office."