Justice (rtd) Desiree Bernard passes on: Justice Bernard carried herself with an aura of decorum and rectitude – AG Nandlall

While returning to Guyana from Geneva, in between airports, I learnt that the Honourable Madame Justice Désirée Bernard died. Justice Bernard has certainly carved a niche and cemented a place in the legal history of Guyana and the Commonwealth Caribbean.
Justice Bernard was both a pace-setter and a standard-bearer in the legal profession, in particular for women. It began as early as her entry into the profession itself in 1964. At that time, she would have been one of very few women entering the profession. This set the trend which would follow her career to the very end.
She became the first female High Court Judge in Guyana and the Caribbean. Next, she became the first female Court of Appeal Judge in Guyana and the Caribbean. She then became the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and the Caribbean. She then became the first female Chancellor of Guyana, the first female Head of the Judiciary of Guyana, and the first female Head of the Judiciary in the Commonwealth Caribbean. When the Caribbean Court of Justice was established, not surprisingly, she was the first female appointed to that Court, and was the only female member of that Court until her retirement.
During the tenure of her exemplary career, she was conferred with the National Awards of the Cacique Crown of Honour and the Order of Roraima. She wrote many scholarly judgments in various areas of the law, distilling some of the most complex and complicated legal principles in a style of writing that was commendably simple, clear and precise. These Judgments adorn the Guyana Law Reports, the West Indian Law Reports, and the Commonwealth Law Reports.
No doubt, Justice Bernard, by her accomplishments, would have inspired several generations of women. I believe that the overwhelming majority of females entering the profession over the last two decades, not only in Guyana but across the Caribbean Region, is a testimony to the influence of a cadre of female lawyers and jurists of which Justice Bernard was the founder.
Both on and off the bench, Justice Bernard carried herself with an aura of decorum and rectitude in keeping with the nobility associated with judicial office. Yet, Her Honour remained accessible and approachable.
I know this because when I entered the profession, Her Honour was the Chief Justice and was doing all estate matters and trials. I did my first series of trials in civil law before Justice Bernard. To say that I learnt greatly would be an understatement.
One quality of Justice Bernard I distinctly remember: Her Honour welcomed constructive criticisms of the Judiciary and Judges. When those criticisms were made, Her Honour engaged in an attempt to find a solution.
There is so much to say about Justice Bernard, but I would stop here. I know that other opportunities will present itself for greater elaboration.
Guyana has definitely lost one of her finest daughters; the legal profession of Guyana and the Caribbean has lost a leader par excellence, and women everywhere have lost a role model.
To Justice Bernard’s relatives and loved ones, I express my deepest condolences personally and on behalf of the Attorney General’s Chambers, the Ministry of Legal Affairs, and the Government of Guyana.
May her soul rest in eternal peace.