Legal icon Justice (rtd.) Désirée Bernard dies

The content originally appeared on: INews Guyana
Desiree Bernard

Former Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana Justice Désirée Bernard has died.

Justice Bernard’s biography is chronicled on the CCJ’s website. It states that she read law at the University of London, graduating with the LLB (Hons) in 1963. Qualifying as a solicitor in 1964, she engaged in private practice in the High Court of the Supreme Court of Guyana from 1965 to 1980.

During that period, she was appointed a Magistrate (1970), Commissioner of Oaths and Notary Public (1976), and was admitted to the English Roll of Solicitors (1977).

Thereafter, Justice Bernard established a number of professional “firsts,” being appointed the first female High Court Judge of the Supreme Court of Guyana (1980); the first female Justice of Appeal (1992); the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean (1996); and the first female Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean (2001).

Justice Bernard took the oath of office as a Judge of the CCJ at the Court’s inauguration ceremony, on Saturday, April 16, 2005.

During her long and distinguished career, she held memberships in various regional and international organisations, having been the founding Secretary of the Caribbean Women’s Association (CARIWA 1970-1974); first President of the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations (OCCBA 1976); member and Chair of the Caribbean Steering Committee for Women’s Affairs, later established as the Women & Development Unit of UWI (WAND – 1978).

Internationally, Justice Bernard served as both rapporteur (1982-1984) and Chair (1985-1989) of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women during her membership, which ran from 1982 to 1998. She has presented many scholarly papers at and participated in numerous international seminars and colloquia both regionally and internationally on a variety of subjects relating to the law, gender, and other matters of public interest.

For her exceptional contribution to the improvement of the status of women and the development and practice of law, Justice Bernard has received several awards, the most notable being the Cacique Crown of Honour, and the Order of Roraima, Guyana’s 3rd, and 2nd highest national awards, respectively.

In July 2005, the Honourable Judge was awarded the Caricom Triennial Award for Women. She was awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) by the University of the West Indies in November 2007. In February 2011, she was appointed a Judge of the Inter-American Development Bank Administrative Tribunal, based in Washington, DC, USA.In 2014, she was appointed to the Bermuda Court of Appeal.

See full statement from President Dr Irfaan Ali:

It is with profound sadness that I have learnt of the passing of a true icon of the legal profession, Justice (rtd.) Desiree Bernard. Her remarkable career as Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, alongside her esteemed tenure as a Justice of the Caribbean Court of Justice, left an indelible mark on our legal landscape, one that all Guyanese should take pride in.

Justice Bernard was a trailblazer for women in the field of law. Her stellar legal career, personal integrity, and her outstanding legacy, I am confident, will continue to inspire all who seek to serve within our legal system.

On behalf of the Government and people of Guyana, I extend my deepest condolences to her relatives and the entire legal fraternity. The loss of Justice Bernard is deeply felt, not just within our country but throughout the region.