… as she retires from the bench
By Latoya Giles
The Caribbean Court of Justice yesterday held a special sitting of the court to mark the illustrious career of retiring Judge, Madame Justice Desiree Bernard. The CCJ which is based in Trinidad and Tobago had held court sessions on home soil, at the Guyana International Conference Centre from Monday.
Justice Bernard, who worked with the CCJ since 2005, was described as a woman of substance, a trailblazer and champion of the judiciary. President of the CCJ, Justice Dennis Byron, said that Bernard’s career has to be characterized as one with integrity.
Justice Bernard’s legal career began in 1963 when she acquired her Bachelor of Arts Degree. She would start practicing privately, between the 1964 and 1980. Justice Bernard changed lanes in 1980 and started her judicial career.
She became the first female High Court Judge in the Supreme Court of Guyana. In 1992 Justice Bernard again created history in Guyana and the Caribbean when she first female Court of Appeal Judge.
Justice Bernard was also instrumental in setting up the Women Lawyers’ Association in Guyana, for which is a former president.
Justice Byrn said that the retiring Justice Bernard has served as an international tribunal interpreting the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas that governs the 15-member regional bloc, CARICOM, and was awarded the Caricom Triennial Award for Women.
She broke barriers in Guyana and the Caribbean when she became the first female Chancellor of the Judiciary in Guyana. She served in that position between 2001 and 2005. In 2005 Justice Bernard took up a position at the Caribbean Court of Justice. She has been the only woman to have served as a judge in the CCJ.
According to Justice Byron, throughout Bernard’s career she has opened various avenues for people in the Caribbean Region in the area of Commercial, Land and Public law etc.
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh who also paid tribute to the retiring jurist, yesterday said that her legal career in a sense blazed the path for women in Guyana and Caribbean who wanted to pursue a law career.
Singh said that Justice Bernard is a mark far from shift for the status of women who aspired for judicial office. She had judicial temperament and learning experience. She has always shown measureable decorum. Her career shows the heights women can achieve, he added.
Guyana’s Attorney General Anil Nandlall said that at every stage of the hierarchy of the judiciary Justice Bernard showed much integrity. Nandlall said that she has left a legacy for many to emulate and it would be an uphill task to do so.
“As the curtains fall on this stage, I do hope that a new chapter starts. I hope the people of Guyana and Caribbean can continue to benefit from her wisdom” the AG said.
Caricom Secretary General Irwin La Rocque, said that Justice Bernard has shown what women can achieve in a not so level playing field and she has set an awe-inspiring example for women to follow.
Regionally, she was the founding Secretary of the Caribbean Women’s Association, a Member and Chair of the Caribbean Steering Committee for Women’s Affairs, later established as the Women and Development Unit of UWI. Internationally, she served as both rapporteur (1982-1984) and Chair (1985-1989) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.
Ambassador La Rocque said that Justice Bernard has consistently 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 of life, be it in their homes, their workplaces and in their marriages or other unions.
“Her contribution to the development of jurisprudence in Guyana and the Caribbean was by no means limited by her contributions in the social arena. There are several notable principles of law and procedure clarified in judgments rendered by Mme Justice Bernard in Guyana, which I am sure are well known to the distinguished Members of the Bench and bar present today,” La Rocque said.
“Her contribution to the development of Caribbean jurisprudence has continued in the realm of Community Law as she has sat on the panel for pioneering cases in the Original Jurisdiction of the CCJ, such as Trinidad Cement Limited v the Caribbean Community.”
He said that the work of Mme Justice Desiree Bernard has enriched the legal and social fabric of our Community and, for that; we express our most heartfelt gratitude.
President of the Guyana Bar Association Ronald Burch-Smith, President of the Guyana Association of women Lawyers Simone Ramlall, along with Justice Stanley Moore, Professor Harold Lutchman, and Tracy Robinson also paid tribute to the retiring jurist, yesterday.
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