Requiem for Advocate Chris Andersen

HARARE - Chris Andersen, who practiced as an advocate for over half a century, died on July 12, 2017. 

He was 81.  

He gave his all in the cause of those he had been instructed to represent.  He joined the Bar in the early 60s, when its members included many Queens Counsel of star-studded quality.  At the age of 38, in 1973, he became the youngest senior counsel at that time.

Andersen prepared for trial in very much the same way as a General does his battles, estimating the situation, taking the necessary action, marshalling his troops, which in this context included his instructing attorney, junior counsel, and the witnesses for his case. He demanded nothing but the very best of all those he was leading and he would pull no punches in dealing with those whose conduct fell short of what he required for the specific strategy he had laid out.

Jeremy Callow, a former partner with Stumbles & Rowe provides a rare insight into how, akin to a military commander preparing for battle, Andersen was meticulous in his preparation for trial. Callow states that it was the custom for Chris Andersen to require his instructing attorney to attend a pre-trial conference with the key witnesses.

On one such occasion, Andersen put his client through such a gruelling experience that when they left Chambers, his client, normally a robust individual, was almost in tears.  He questioned Callow, whether the advocate they had just spoken to, was not acting for other side. Callow states that he was only able to calm his client by saying to him – “if Chris Andersen can be so tough with you in preparation for the trial, can you imagine what he will do to the other side?”  With these words, his client felt reassured that Andersen was indeed instructed to represent him.

His mastery of the law meant that he could determine in advance the legal terrain on which the battle would be won or lost. He had the knack and with effortless ease to wade through the thicket of evidence and dissect complex cases to a form readily understandable.

It was the renowned legal scholar, John Henry Wigmore, who stated that cross examination, is the “greatest legal engine ever invented for the discovery of the truth.”

The pursuit of truth is central to our adversarial trial system. In the pursuit of truth, Andersen brought into combat a formidable array of weaponry which comprised   the diverse forensic skills that were at his command. One of his chief assets was as  a cross-examiner.

David Bartlett, a highly respected former Judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe recalls: “I remember going to the High Court as a law student in 1974 to listen to a trial. Chris was cross examining a witness who was trying to evade the truth. Chris’ remorseless questioning cut through the lies, leaving the witness no place to hide... He was always extremely thoroughly prepared, his knowledge of the law immense, his ethics impeccable – and his cross examining skills even more formidable.”

Richard Wood, a former partner with Atherstone & Cook, pays this tribute: “He was the best defender in criminal cases I ever heard and this includes barristers imported from out of the country.”

Clive Grosman, a leading advocate in the 1980s in Zimbabwe, sent this tribute from Hong Kong: “I have come across many leading barristers, particularly from London, and also from Australia and New Zealand and few if any, could match Chris’ preparation, cross examination skills and over all advocacy. Very sad news indeed.”

Beatrice Mtetwa, a practicing trial lawyer and of a generation well after Andersen says: “I cannot say I knew Andersen that well other than appearing in court against him as he was still in government when I was at the Bar.  My contribution is therefore from that perspective and from the shocking deterioration of professional and ethical standards at the Bar. 

“The passing of Chris Andersen brought with it the nostalgia of days gone by where members of the Bar were always professional, ethical, and courteous and abided by the rules the Bar had set. It was unheard of for members of the Bar to be double booked and is this would happen both the Bar and the courts would not countenance it. Despite his sharp and incisive wit, the clarity of his legal arguments and a sometimes acerbic tongue, Andersen was always ethical, professional, and a stickler for the observance of Bar rules.  He was never rude or condescending to those of us who could not match his intellect. MHSRIP.”

Former Judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe, Chris Greenland , in his tribute, recognizes the contribution that  Andersen made to the reputation for excellence  that the legal profession in Zimbabwe  enjoys.

“In simple terms he was a practitioner of diamond hard functional integrity from whom I learnt so much. He made his mark during a period when our profession was more or less unimpeachable and a shining example to the rest of the planet. To that end he was a major contributor,” Greenland said.

Adrian de Bourbon SC, many years younger than Andersen, is Zimbabwe’s most senior practicing Advocate. Like Andersen, amongst others, he belongs to an elite corps of trial advocates who for several decades commanded the field of advocacy in Zimbabwe. This is his tribute.

“I too agree that this is sad news, but Chris had not been well for quite a while.  We were never good friends, but as an opponent none was more challenging than Chris. Always well prepared, his skill at cross examination was a privilege to see.  Ethically he was without a peer and he never tried to pull a fast one.  Without a shadow of doubt, the best advocate I came across (including a number from South Africa). “Victory against Chris was something to savour.  The law profession in Zimbabwe was much poorer when he had to retire.  My thoughts and condolences go to Anne and the family.”

Like most, his day would begin at 8am. From 10:30am to 4pm, he would be in court with a brief break for lunch. After court, he returns to Chambers for a cup of tea and from 5 until it is time to go home is occupied with consultations.  He would most certainly take a bundle of briefs home on most days.  Such was his daily routine for five days a week. He did not go into chambers during weekends or long vacations, most  of which he took in Zimbabwe at his  holiday home in Connemara and Inyanga. But even on such occasions, he always took a brief with him. Reading, reading, reading – this was the existence that gave life to his brilliance as a trial advocate.

Andersen’s name as counsel  appears in our Law Reports from  as early  as 1961 up until 2010 and even beyond.  He had a profound influence on the development of the law in Zimbabwe in the last half century. 

Reflecting upon his career as an advocate, what do we see? 

We see a man who dedicated his life and his formidable  array of trial advocacy skills to  the pursuit of truth in the legal process .

We see a man whose ethical conduct and integrity were second to none and who was not afraid to hold his peers to those high standards.

We see a man who, when the old order changed, as it did in 1980, was able to adapt to the new order and to continue to give of his best as an advocate and in various ministerial roles in the post –independence era.

Chris Andersen honed his fine legal skills in his early days, learning from the great advocates of his time. In a post independence era when some of his illustrious fellow advocates chose to flee Zimbabwe, Andersen and many others chose to stay the course and became standard bearers of the tradition of excellence in which they had been nurtured.

Andersen was born on December 14 1935, in Johannesburg, South Africa.  He was the son of Christian Andersen, a mining engineer born in Dagersfontein, South Africa, in 1909, and Alice Constance Andersen (nee Baines) a kindergarten teacher, born in Kimberely, South Africa, in 1911.

His parents moved to Southern Rhodesia as it then was in 1937, initially setting up residence in Jojo Mine in Kwekwe.  He attended Prince Edward High School between 1948 and 1953 as a boarder.  He was a house prefect and won the Mashonaland Squash Championship.  Between 1954 and 1956, he attended Rhodes University in South Africa, attaining a Bachelor of Arts, majoring with Law and a distinction in politics.   He completed his LLB degree at Rhodes University in 1958. In that year he was captain of the Combined Universities Squash Team.

In 1959 he moved to Harare and joined the Attorney General’s Office as a public prosecutor.  He was awarded national colours as the Federal squash champion.  In 1961 he left the Attorney General’s Office and joined the Bar. He married …Anne Eleanor Andersen (nee Cleveland) in 1964 at the Catholic Cathedral in Harare.

In 1974 he stood and won a seat in the parliamentary election for the Rhodesia Front party.  He was elected as leader of the Bar in 1976. In 1978 he was appointed as the Minister of Justice, Law and Order in the interim government of Bishop Abel Muzorerwa.  He attended Lancaster House in 1979 and in 1980 he left the Cabinet but remained as a Member of Parliament as a non-constituency member. He returned to his practice at the Bar in that year, until his appointment as Minister of Public Service in 1982, a post he held until 1990. 

From 1990 to 1993, he served as Minister of Mines. He retired from Parliament in 1996 and returned to Advocates Chambers in 1997.  In 2009 he retired from the Bar.

He is survived by his wife, Anne Eleanor Andersen (nee Cleveland), his children Karen, Hugh and David and his grandchildren, Graeme, Sarah, Kate, Sean, Jess and Emma. 

* James Devittie is a former judge of the High Court of Zimbabwe

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