Anguilla’s celebrated and eminent jurist, Dame Dr. Bernice Lake, QC has formally gone into retirement with a big send off and thank you from the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Anguilla and OECS Bar Associations and other members of the legal fraternity and family and friends in the region and the island. The extraordinary assertive, adversarial and legal giant, who earned the respect and admiration of her colleagues everywhere, was the recipient ofa full measure of tributes at a special sitting of the Court on Friday, July 22.
Presiding High Court Judge, Justice Louise Blenman, told a packed room that the special sitting was in recognition of Dame Lake’s “outstanding contribution to Anguilla and the entire region.” She went on: “That so many of us are assembled [here] is an indication and testimony of the highest regard with which we all hold Dame Bernice – an outstanding jurist.” In focusing on the legal aspects of Dame Bernice’s career, the Judge said it was as diverse as it was rich.
Justice Blenman said Dame Bernice, a teacher, diplomat and Legal scholar, having qualified in law from the University of London 1967, was called to the Bar in St. Kitts in that same. She practiced extensively in civil court and quickly earned a reputation as a bright and thorough learner. She practiced in several jurisdictions including St. Kitts, Antigua and Barbuda and Anguilla where she was a very formidable and able advocate.
“As a result, she frequently came to the halls of justice and fearlessly championed the causes of the ordinary manand woman who in her view were being disadvantaged or taken advantage of,” the Judge noted . “She was in the forefront of several struggles which earned her a reputation as one of the finest minds in the entire Caribbean. In fact, throughout the entire Caribbean, Dame Bernice is known for her scholarship… and for her very high ethical standards. She has an impenetrable integrity and strength of conviction that is unparalleled and with all of this, she is epiphany of dignity.”
Justice Blenman said that while Dame Bernice enjoyed a wide-ranging practice, it was for a work in Constitutional Law and Human Rights that she became renowned.
In her earlier life Ms. Lake, a former High School Teacher in St. Kitts, graduated from the then University College of the West Indies with an Honours Degree in History and was later recruited to the Diplomatic Service of the Federation of the West Indies. After that she studied law at London University. She was the chief architect of the Anguilla Constitution in 1975 and a member of the team which framed the Antigua and Barbuda Constitution in 1981.
In 1985 she was appointed Queens Counsel, the first female in the Eastern Caribbean and the first graduate of the University of the West Indies to be given that honour. In 2004 at the 23rd Anniversary of Independence the Government of Antigua and Barbuda, in recognition of her outstanding contribution to the legal field, her stance on women issues, civil and political rights and her personal integrity, conferred on her the prestigious title of Dame. In October, 2007, she was awarded as Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree from the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus.
During the tributes in the High Court, Acting Judge, Michael Fay, speaking after Justice Blenman, said that the Anguilla Bar had followed Dame Bernice’s reputation for intellectual and persuasive argument for honesty, integrity, dignity and a passion for the law. He added that the members of the Bar should be very proud of Dame Bernice and her legacy.
Chief Justice, Hugh Rawlins, speaking via a video conference link, said the special sitting of the Court was to honour Dame Bernice and everything she stood for. He recalled having worked with her in the 1990s on the John Benjamin’s Talk Your Mind Case which was now at the heart of legal philosophy of jurisprudence in that theory of the law. “What was more satisfying however for me, was the manner in which you work, the manner in which you led the team which was with you, he said to Dame Bernice. “Your systematic work was quite impressive. What was even more impressive, Dame Bernice, was your constancy,” he stated, recalling her firm stance on issues connected with the case.
After speaking extensively on other matters, the Chief Justice added: “Whatever accolades you acquired, or heaped on you, you very well and richly deserve. At the end of the day, the legacy, as far as I am concerned, would be in the person who you are. That cannot be erased and so we thank you for your pioneering work in the law in the OECS jurisdiction. We thank you for your constancy… your bravery, your honesty, your integrity, your love for the law; and I think love for literature and language.”
Other speakers who spoke in glowing terms about the life, work and legacy of Dame Bernice were newly-appointed Attorney General in Anguilla, James Wood; President of the OECS Bar Association, Tapley Seaton of St. Kitts; President of the Anguilla Bar Association, Yvette Walace; President of the Antigua Bar Association, Kelvin John; Delano Bart QC and St. Kitts Ambassador; former Attorney General in Anguilla, Ronald Scipio; John Benjamin, CEO of Caribbean Juris Chambers, Tommy Astaphan of Astaphan Chambers, Courtney Abel of Caribbean Associated Attorneys and Paulette Harrigan, who, at the commencement of her legal career, served under the keen supervision of Dame Bernice.
Replying, Dame Bernice thanked Justice Blenman and all the other legal representatives in Anguilla and other parts of the region for their kind comments based on what they had discovered about her. She was particularly grateful to those lawyers who had taken up the human rights issues she held so dear during her active years.
“I wish to say thank you to all who spoke and all who did not speak, bearing in mind that you came with commitment…,” she added. “I also wish to say thank you to members of the Bar and the profession who have been so closely connected with the Bar and with whom I have established a good, fair and working relationship. To all those people, I wish to say thank you.”