“Justice Bernard shattered glass ceilings” – Justice Rajnauth-Lee as legal luminaries remember Justice Bernard

The late Justice Désirée Patricia Bernard shattered glass ceilings thus paving the way for generations of women in the legal fraternity, according to former Vice-President of the Caribbean Association of Women Judges, Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee.

Justice, Désirée Bernard

She was at the time making a tribute in honour of Bernard who served as Chancellor of the Guyana Judiciary as well as a judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice.
The memorial service was attended by several legal luminaries both locally and regionally.
Justice Rajnauth-Lee who was the first woman citizen of Trinidad and Tobago to be appointed to the CCJ Bench related that Bernard was a trailblazer, visionary champion of justice and equality, and mentor to many including herself.
“Her historic appointments as the first female Chief Justice and Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana, and in the Commonwealth Caribbean, Justice Bernard shattered glass ceilings… she paved the way for generations of women in the legal profession.”
According to Justice Rajnauth-Lee Bernard’s contributions extended far beyond the courtroom. As a founding secretary of the Caribbean Women’s Association and the first president of the Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations, she tirelessly advocated for the rights and empowerment of women throughout the region.

Chief Justice of Guyana, Roxane George

Justice Bernard’s dedication to gender equality was not confined to the Caribbean as she made her mark on the international stage as a member and chair of the United Nations committee on the elimination of discrimination against women.
In addition, she was remembered for her expertise in matters of law, gender, and public interest.

President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders

“We celebrate the pivotal role that Justice Bernard played as a first patron of the Caribbean Association of Women Judges.” In this regard, Justice Rajnauth-Lee encouraged female judges to use Bernard’s life as encouragement and inspiration.
“Let her life serve as an inspiration for all of us gathered here today and for future generations of women judges in the Caribbean and beyond. In her honour, let us reaffirm our dedication to upholding the principles she held dear and continue the important work she began,” she stated.
Also delivering remarks at the memorial service was the President of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), Justice Adrian Saunders who expressed that it was a privilege for him to serve alongside Justice Bernard while noting that she was an extraordinary individual who championed the cause of women.
“Justice Bernard was such an extraordinary lady that it was an extremely great honor and privilege for me to serve as a judge with her at the Caribbean Court of Justice. We have heard and we will no doubt continue to hear a considerable amount about a number of accolades bestowed on her for her work in championing the cause of women and justifiably so.”

Justice Maureen

Justice Saunders further noted that Bernard was insistent that Caribbean judges examine and review the common law in keeping with the values, morals, and aspirations and more importantly, using it to move forward as a collection of Caribbean.
On the other hand, Chief Justice of Guyana, Roxane George recollected how her relationship with Bernard impacted her life.
“It was Justice Bernard who actively persuaded me to join the bench… she made it her duty to ensure that I was a member of the bench.”
Justice George further noted that in 1993 when Bernard was chairperson of the Family Matter Committee, she insisted that I also be a part of that committee. She noted that her mentorship was unwavering and impacting.
It was my honour and that of many woman layers to have sat beside her as she imparted her knowledge and wisdom. I have tried to emulate Justice Bernard especially by keeping in touch with and mentoring the young lawyers, particularly women lawyers, just as she did for me… hers are very large high heels shoes to fill. She has left indelible footprints in the signs of time and many of us have committed to following her path of excellence.”
During her long and distinguished career, Justice Bernard 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 the University of the West Indies (WAND) – 1978.
Internationally, she 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.
Moreover, she presented many scholarly papers 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 had received several awards, the most notable being the Cacique Crown of Honour, and the Order of Roraima, Guyana’s third and second-highest national awards respectively.
In July 2005, this 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.