13 September 2011

Legal Scholar Dame Bernice Lake Joins the Ancestors


St. Kitts & Nevis Attorney General Nisbett pays tribute

BASSETERRE, ST. KITTS, SEPTEMBER 12TH 2011 (CUOPM) – St. Kitts and Nevis’ Attorney General and Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Hon. Patrice Nisbett is adding his voice to the tributes to the late Dame Bernice Lake, QC.

“Her career has been brilliant and it is a loss not only to Anguilla where she was born and Antigua and Barbuda, her adopted home, but to the OECS and the wider Caribbean,” said Mr. Nisbett.

He said Dame Bernice has left an indelible mark in jurisprudence especially in the area of Human Rights and Constitutional Law and her guidance, counseling and expertise will be surely missed.

The Observer in Antigua reports that the 78-year-old jurist died on Saturday at Mount St. John’s Medical Centre after a brief illness.

She was born in Anguilla, schooled in St. Kitts and eventually made Antigua her home, where she practiced law from her Chambers – Lake and Kentish.

Prior to making her mark in constitutional law and human rights, Dame Bernice taught in St. Kitts at the Girls High School. She then travelled to Jamaica to pursue studies in History at a newly-established University College of the West Indies. The college would later be known as the University of the West Indies. She graduated, with honours, and began a career in the diplomatic service of the West Indies Federation.

After the 1962 collapse of the Federation, Dame Bernice opted to study law at University College of London.

“I was privileged to meet her there in 1964 as a humble freshman while she was a queen of the Students Union and as I remember her, she brought real class to that ferment of student agitation in the days of anti-apartheid and other student protests,” UWI Professor Henry Fraser remarked of her in 2007.

In 1967, she earned an Honours Degree in Law, was called to the Bar in St. Kitts and moved on to launch a distinguished career, establishing herself as a thorough and formidable attorney with a deep sense of passion for justice.

Her extensive work on constitutions within the Leewards made her an expert in the field. Not only was she the main architect of the Anguilla Constitution in 1975, she was part of the team that framed Antigua & Barbuda’s Constitution in 1981.

As a respected attorney, Dame Bernice was considered a trailblazer. She was the first woman in the Eastern Caribbean and the first University of the West Indies graduate to be bestowed the distinguished title of Queens Counsel.

She was knighted in 2004 by the Antiguan & Barbudan government for her contribution to the legal field, her stance on women’s issues, civil and political rights and her personal integrity.

Three years later, she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Law Degree from her Alma Mater – The University of the West Indies.

In July, Lake was honoured by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Anguilla and OECS Bar Associations and other members of the legal fraternity.

At that event, Justice Louise Blenman applauded the jurist for fearlessly championing the causes of the ordinary man and woman who were being disadvantaged.

“She was in the forefront of several struggles which earned her a reputation as one of the finest minds in the entire Caribbean,” the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court justice said. “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.”

Similarly, Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins, who also spoke at the event, applauded Dame Bernice’s four decades of service to the profession.

“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,” the chief justice said.

He added, “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.”

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