Women Lawyers

Stabroek News
October 22, 2000

The Chancellor of the Judiciary did not have his most inspired thought for the millennium when he answered the final question from Mr Cecil Griffith on the GTV 'One on One' programme two Sundays ago. He was asked whether male lawyers were threatened by the increasing number of women in the legal profession. According to a statement issued by the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL), his reply was that while he might be biased, he felt that the profession was for men only.

If that were not enough of an indigestible sound-bite to swallow on a quiet Sunday evening, Chancellor Kennard then reportedly proceeded to amplify his views. It was indicated by GAWL that he had implied that women should confine their activities in the legal sphere to the Chambers of the Attorney General and the Director of Public Prosecutions. Advocacy in open court, it would appear, is not what the Chancellor considers a female forte.

In the year 2000, when women lawyers, women magistrates and women judges play a significant role in the court system, acquitting themselves no less competently than their male counterparts, statements of this kind are nothing short of unbelievable. It might be noted that the Chancellor's views are not only out of consonance with the spirit of the times in Guyana, but also in the western world at large. Had he expressed his opinion in the industrialised countries, there would have been such a howl of protest, that he would have been deafened by the clamour. To essay any suggestion that Mrs Clinton or Mrs Cherie Blair, to cite two high-profile examples were unsuited to the rough-and- tumble of court room advocacy would be unthinkable in the US and UK, and in those jurisdictions the Chancellor (or a suitable equivalent in the case of the US) might possibly end up having to resign.

The Chancellor's remarks are even more extraordinary considering the fact that the Constitution of Guyana (1980) which he is legally bound to uphold, states in Section 29 (1) that, "All forms of discrimination against women on the basis of their sex are illegal."

Section 29 (2) goes on to say that, "the exercise, of women's rights is ensured by according women equal access with men to... equal opportunities in employment, remuneration and promotion..." Yet here we have the nation's most senior judge allegedly ruminating on the limitations of the female gender in a professional field.

While no one would suggest that the Chancellor has been anything less than even-handed in the court-room or would continue to be so, as a judge of his experience well knows, appearance is important. And now that he has made his innermost thoughts on the subject of gender equality public, he has unwittingly, perhaps, done violence to an appearance of absolute impartiality.

In this day and age we should not still be defending the skills or our women lawyers; those are beyond question. And our most senior judge should not be allowed to get away with any remark open to the interpretation that the innate activities of an entire group, professionally speaking, are in some way inadequate. It is unwarranted, indefensible and unacceptable. The women of Guyana wait to hear the Chancellor's retraction and apology.

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