THE curtain came down yesterday on the Caribbean Court of Justice’s (CCJ) first itinerant sitting in Guyana with a special ceremonial sitting to mark and commemorate the retirement from the bench of the CCJ its first female judge, Guyana’s very own Justice Desiree Patricia Bernard.
With an outstanding career, the distinguished Justice Bernard blazed the trail for women in the legal profession, not only in Guyana, but in the entire region as well.
Born on March 2, 1939, Justice Bernard received a Bachelor of Law Degree from the University of London in 1963. One year later, she qualified as a solicitor and had a career in private practice spanning the years 1964-1980.
She subsequently embarked on a judicial career during which she broke stereotypes and made history. She was appointed the first female judge to the High Court of the Supreme Court of Guyana and later become the first female judge of the Court of Appeal in 1992. Four years later, Justice Bernard was appointed the first female justice, not only in Guyana, but the Caribbean.
President of the CCJ and one of the presiding judges over the three-day sittings here, Sir Charles Dennis Byron, said , “She shattered the proverbial glass ceiling once again in 2001 and 2005, becoming the first female Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana and the first female judge of the CCJ.”
He said that Justice Bernard is the embodiment of the calibre of intellectual jurists and of the commitment of Guyana to the CCJ. She joins the ranks of other noted Guyanese who have made invaluable contributions to the CCJ.
“Throughout her tenure at the court, Madame Justice Bernard has demonstrated the value of the CCJ as a dispute resolution authority for regional integration and economic development in a rule-based community, exhibiting high standards of fairness and governance, and opening up new avenues for ordinary people of the region to have a voice, and to get justice at the highest tier of judicial authority. Her judgments have been instrumental in clarifying the laws of Guyana,” Sir Byron said.
Paying tribute on behalf of the President, Government and people of Guyana, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Anil Nandlall said that at every stage of the hierarchical structure of the judiciary at which Justice Bernard presided, her contributions and written judgments are an exhibition of legal scholarship and pragmatism that is often absent, but very much needed in jurisprudence in the region.
“Madame Bernard has left a legacy for us all to emulate, and it is indeed an uphill task for us to do so…we hope that she continues to serve in other capacities so that the people of Guyana and the Caribbean will continue to benefit from her education, her experience and her scholarship,” the AG said.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh, said one of Justice Bernard’s most admirable qualities was her essential humanity and deep understanding of people. These qualitie, he said, were reflected in her attitude to people of all walks of life and in her judgment to all those who appeared before her.
“Justice Bernard’s legal career in a sense blazed the path for women in Guyana and the wider Caribbean who endeavoured to pursue a career in law. It marked a far shift away from the status of women historically who aspired to judicial office,” Justice Singh said.
Justice Bernard was the recipient the Eighth CARICOM Triennial Award for Women in 2005, a recognition which singled out her role in advocating for women’s development.
CARICOM’s Secretary General, Irwin La Rocque, in his address, said that Justice Bernard has shown what women can achieve in a not so level playing field.
“Madame Justice Bernard consistently has showed her concern for women across the Region, and has worked tirelessly in calling for the cessation of violence against women, and for their equal treatment in all facets in life,” La Rocque said.
Several other moving tributes were paid by Professor Harold Lutchman who represented the Regional Judicial and Legal Services Commission (RJLSC), Oswald Barnes from the CCJ Board of Trustees, President of the Guyana Bar Association, Ronald Burch-Smith, President of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers Simone Morris Ramlall and Justice Stanley Moore.
Responding to the approbation of her colleagues, Justice Bernard expressed her gratitude for a most memorable send off.
She also used the occasion to call for an increase in the number of judges in Guyana, noting that while it is never easy to persuade lawyers to trade their lucrative practice even for the prestigious judicial office of judge, efforts have to be made relieve the pressure on the small number of judges if the administration of justice can effectively achieve its objective.
Justice Bernard is also the recipient of several national accolades, including the prestigious Cacique Crown of Honour (CCH) award in 1985 and the country’s second highest honour, the Order of Roraima (OR) in 2002. She was also awarded the University of Guyana Award for Achievement in Law in 1989. (GINA)