Tribute to the late Justice Desiree Bernard, OR, CCH by DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC.

Tribute to the late Justice Desiree Bernard, OR, CCH by DPP Shalimar Ali-Hack, SC.

Honourable President of the Caribbean Court of Justice, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Attorney General, Chief Justice, Justices of Appeal of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, Judges of High Court of Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, The Ombudsman, Solicitor General, The Chief Parliamentary Counsel, Retired President of the CCJ, Retired Chancellor, Retired Judges, Commissioners of Title, Chief Magistrate and Magistrates, members of the Inner and Utter Bars, President and members of the Bar Association, President and members of the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, Daughter of Justice Bernard Ms. Carol Ann Bernard and relatives of Justice Desiree Bernard.

Today we are all gathered here to reflect on the life and work of an outstanding daughter of this dear land of Guyana who achieved many firsts especially in the Judiciary of Guyana as the first female Puisne Judge, first female Justice of Appeal, first female Chief Justice of Guyana and the Commonwealth Caribbean, first female Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana and the Commonwealth Caribbean and first female Judge of the CCJ. As the Director of Public Prosecutions for Guyana I will focus on Justice Bernard’s contributions in the criminal justice system and my personal interactions with her since my admission to the Bar in Guyana.

It’s my distinct pleasure to do this tribute for Justice Bernard especially because I was the State Counsel who prosecuted before her in the Demerara Assizes when she sat for the last time in the Criminal Assizes before she was elevated to a Justice of Appeal in 1992. Appearing before Justice Bernard was a most pleasant experience for me as a State Counsel. The difference of this judge is that she was gentle yet firm. She exuded confidence and had a pleasant personality. She made her points and spoke out against the crime that was happening in the society. I distinctly remember presenting a Causing Death by Dangerous Driving case before her where the accused was overtaking a vehicle while it was overtaking another vehicle. The accused had pleaded guilty and while sentencing the accused Justice Bernard lamented on the dangerous nature with which people were driving with no regard for human life which was resulting in so many fatal accidents on the roadways. An issue which still continues to pervade our society.

Justice Bernard was of the view that the sentence must reflect the seriousness of the case and send a message to offenders. I recall her saying in a murder case “People have no regard for the life of others. They are so quick to resort to violence resulting in death. People no longer value life” She was appalled and concerned with the haste with which persons resort to violence. These circumstances still pervade the society here in Guyana and I commend her concern at what’s happening in the society and for the Court to take a stand in deterring potential offenders while at the same time considering the rehabilitation and reintegration of the offender into society. As a young lawyer I was struck by Justice Bernard’s genuine concern for human life and for the decline in humanity in our society, a live issue today. To Justice Bernard a case was not just another case, but she attached the human significance and importance which it deserved. This character of hers would have undoubtedly contributed to her being awarded the 2 high Orders of Guyana of the Cacique Crown of Honour, the Order of Roraima and a Doctor of Laws from the University of the West Indies as well as an Honorary Doctor of letters by the University of Guyana. 

While appearing before Justice Bernard in the Court of Appeal in criminal appeals Justice Bernard was always fair to both sides thus ensuring that Article 144 (1) of the Constitution was upheld in the cases in which she sat by ensuring that the case was afforded a fair hearing by an independent and impartial court. I recall in the case of Sheldon Adams v The State for the offence of Murder despite allowing the appeal due to the errors in law made by the trial judge she was amenable to the State’s argument for a retrial which she ordered. Justice Bernard was undaunting and could not be intimidated.

Justice Bernard sat in the Habeas Corpus application in the famous Extradition case of Guido Hans Metzger which was a request from the Commonwealth country of Canada and dealt with section 8(3) of the Fugitive (Offenders) Act. The other Extradition cases of King v Director of Prisons and Barry Dataram also dealt with this same section which has since been amended. In this case Justice Bernard, since 1990, also considered the issue of the trial of a case more than 10 years after the incident, and the impact on the defence. This issue was later dealt with by the CCJ in the case of Vishnu Bridgelall v Hardat Harriprashad in 2017 (27years after).

Justice Bernard was always concerned about the rights of people and in particular women and would participate in Conferences to propagate and promote the rights of women and vulnerable persons. As Chancellor of the Judiciary Justice Bernard hosted a Magistrates Conference at the Tower Hotel in 2003 on “IMPLEMENTATION of THE DOMESTIC VILOENCE ACT”.

Justice Bernard continued to appear in criminal cases at the CCJ while sitting there; including the case of Vaughn Thomas v The State from Guyana.   

Justice Bernard was knowledgeable in the scriptures and held a high position at the St George’s Cathedral which I daresay contributed to her good character and the high standard of this noble profession which she maintained throughout her life. This was reflected in the Practice Direction by Justice Bernard dated 12th November, 2001 dealing with the mode of dress for Attorneys at law.  Justice Bernard has left us a rich legacy.  

On my behalf and that of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions I express heartfelt condolences to her daughter Carol Ann and other relatives. May her dear soul rest in peace and may her legacy live on through the work of the lawyers at the bar and the Judges siting in all courts.

Thank you.

Shalimar Ali-Hack SC

Director of Public Prosecutions

21 May, 2024. 

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