Late Justice Bryan O’Linn was truly a giant amongst his peers on the Namibian legal scene and a stalwart who genuinely believed in justice and true reconciliation.
This was said by Chief Justice Peter Shivute at a tribute held in honour of the late O’Linn at the Supreme Court yesterday. O’Linn died last week-end in a Windhoek Hospital, aged 87.
“In the course of his practice at the Bar, spanning some three decades, he was one of the brave lawyers who took a principled position to represent freedom fighters charged by the apartheid State for their political activity at the time when such a course was not fashionable or popular and the risk of being ostracised from the community loomed large,” the Chief Justice said.
Advocate O’Linn performed this pioneering work with distinction and in the best traditions of legal practice. He defended with tenacity those charged with sabotage (including late Gerson Veii), terrorism (including late John Pandeni), as well as many others, including late Nataniel Maxuilili, Axel Johannes and Andreas Shipanga.
O’Linn also represented the family of the late Swapo political activist, Immanuel Shifidi, at the inquest into his death.
According to the Chief Justice, O’Linn was a skillful and effective cross-examiner, especially of security policemen.
He said O’Linn was an outspoken opponent of human rights abuses and was a fierce proponent of a constitution that protects human rights and the rule of law.
The Chief Justice had the assembled crowd, consisting of the who’s who of the legal fraternity, smiling when he joked about the fact that O’Linn would always try to dissuade colleagues who differed from him in a judgement.
And if he could not achieve that he would always have the last word by including additional paragraphs in response to views expressed in a dissenting judgment.
According to the Chief Justice, the qualities of integrity and upright principle that characterised O’Linn’s practice at the bar became even more evident as a judge.
“As a judge, he contributed generously to our very rich jurisprudence, in the form of many landmark judgments he had written or was involved in. He orchestrated, steered and veered our criminal jurisprudence in a direction, which brought to the fore the constitutional rights, not only of accused persons, but also in the interests of victims of crime”, Shivute said.
He concluded by saying O’Linn’s tenure on earth may have ended, but his legacy will live on amongst the many pages of his judgments, on wide-ranging subjects, which would continue to guide the courts.
A close confidant and long-time friend of O’Linn, Advocate Peter Koep, also delivered a glowing tribute about him on behalf of the legal fraternity. Koep said he met O’Linn when he started practicing as an articled clerk in 1978 when the latter was already a very experienced, successful advocate.
He said what struck him most about O’Linn was his dogged determination to find the truth. He said this was a matter of professional integrity and personal honour and would often lead to disagreements between him and instructing counsels, as well as clients.
He said he witnessed this mindset at work on many occasions and was always deeply impressed by the way O’Linn stuck to what he believed to be the correct way of handling a matter. He further said these high principles and exemplary values made O’Linn the formidable man he was.
On a personal note, he said that although O’Linn and his wife of 58 years, Miemie, had no children they showed great fondness for children in general and he believed that O’Linn would have made a great father.
Koep called O’Linn stern but fair, demanding but supportive, tough but affectionate. According to him, O’Linn would have been an interesting, if unconventional, role model.
Judge O’Linn commenced his career as an advocate at the Windhoek Bar in January 1961 until his appointment to the Bench in 1989. He is survived by his wife Miemie.