Justice Desiree Bernard retires from CCJ
September 20, 2013

Justice Desiree Bernard retires from CCJ

Fri Sep 20, 2013

by Oscar Ramjeet

A third judge of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is going into retirement and so far only three jurisdictions — Guyana, Barbados and Belize — have accepted the regional court as the final appellate body.{{more}}

Despite this, the CCJ is playing an extremely important role in carving jurisprudence in the region.

In an exclusive interview with me, Justice Desiree Bernard, who joined the Court from its inception in April 2005, said that the CCJ has been dealing with all types of cases, varying in nature, and pointed out that Guyanese lawyers have benefitted significantly from decisions of the Court in land matters, since that country’s real estate is governed by the Roman Dutch system. She added that although Belize only joined three years ago, a few interesting cases came from that Central American country, which she described as “brain teasers”. Barbados also had a couple of complex issues, she disclosed.

The Guyanese born jurist goes into retirement early in March 2014, following two of her colleagues, Duke Pollard, and Michael de La Bastide President of the Court. She added that although the Court is dealing with three jurisdictions in appellate matters, they are still busy, because since it is the final court, they have to be extremely thorough in their research and in writing decisions/opinions. The CCJ deals with numerous issues in its original jurisdiction. She is optimistic that the other countries will soon come on board in relation to appeals.

My investigations and research reveal that because referenda are required in some jurisdictions to rid the Privy Council as the final court, some countries are reluctant to go through that process. However, St Lucia and Dominica do not require referenda, and only the “green light” from the British Government is required. This process is now underway, but it would take a few months to materialize. Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad Bissessar said her country will join the CCJ to deal only with criminal appeals, and civil matters will continue to be dealt with by the Privy Council. The Opposition Leader, Keith Rowley, however, is insisting that the Privy Council be completely abolished and the CCJ be the final court in both civil and criminal appeals.

Prime Minister’s Persad Bissessar’s stand is very surprising, since her predecessor and mentor Basdeo Panday was in the forefront of the regional Court, hence the reason why the spacious and modern Court is located in Port of Spain.

Justice Bernard, who had many firsts in Guyana and the Caribbean, the first female judge in the Republic, first female appellate judge, first female Chief Justice and Chancellor, indicated that she will join the Inter American Development Bank (IDB) as a member of the Tribunal to determine legal issues of the bank. She also served as a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).