'I meant no disrespect'
- Chancellor says of remarks about women

By Patrick Denny
Stabroek News
November 17, 2000

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Cecil Kennard, has asserted that the remarks he made during a recent television interview were in no way intended to mean that women should not be in the legal profession.

It was his first public statement on the issue since the firestorm of criticism which greeted remarks he made on the "One on One" talk show with Cecil Griffith last month.

In that interview, responding to a question by Griffith about the impact of the entry of a large number of women into the profession and whether it posed a threat to the men, Justice Kennard said it did not. But he added: "I think that as a profession, I may be biased, it is a profession for men. For instance it is a rough profession out there. It is not easy Mr Griffith. I think if you are in the AG's [Attorney General's] or DPP's [Director of Public Prosecution's] Chambers you do well. But it is not an easy thing out there."

Reactions to the comments were swift and fierce. The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers (GAWL) and the Working People's Alliance (WPA) in statements said that the Chancellor's remarks were out of step with the Constitution and the legislative initiatives by governments past and present to open up opportunities for women.

The Chancellor at first refused to comment on the various criticisms of his statement and requested that the interview be re-broadcast so that the public could judge for itself whether his remarks were in anyway objectionable.

Earlier this week, Stabroek News raised the issue with the Chancellor and he consented to respond: "I meant no disrespect to the women in the legal profession as I am conscious of the contributions they have made and will continue to make. Also, I come from the body of a woman, and my wife who is also a woman, has been of tremendous support to me during my career and it would be far from my thoughts to ridicule women or underestimate their competence or ability."

Justice Kennard told Stabroek News that the remarks, to which some sections of the community objected including the WPA, GAWL and GHRA, were probably taken out of context.

He said that he did not anticipate that his remarks would have been interpreted in the way they had been by these organisations, particularly since they had been preceded by his praise of the work of recently-elevated Land Court Judge, Dawn Gregory-Barnes when she was a principal magistrate.

Justice Kennard noted that women had made a significant contribution to the profession, particularly in the area of civil law and cited as examples Sheila Chapman-Wong, Josephine Whitehead and the late Pearlene Roach.

Both as Chancellor and Chief Justice, Justice Kennard asserted that he has always been an advocate for the upliftment of women in the legal profession. Examples of his commitment, he said, were his request to Louise Blenman to be a member of the Legal Practitioners Committee and when she left Guyana, the invitation was extended to Rosemary Cadogan to replace her on that committee.

Justice Kennard said that in 1998 he was instrumental in the appointment of Melissa Robertson and Juliet Moore to the magistracy and for Robertson's recent promotion as a senior magistrate. The following year, he said, he was instrumental in persuading Mala Drepaul and Dawn Holder-Alert to accept positions on the bench. Another young female lawyer, whom he has persuaded to accept an appointment to the magistracy, is Ava Vandenburg-Bailey who is to take up an appointment in January. Also, he said that among the young attorneys he was seeking to persuade to accept appointment to the magistracy were Renee Kissoon and Ms Yassin of the Attorney General's Chambers among others.

The Chancellor said that it was he who had spoken to and encouraged Justice Yonette Cummings to accept an appointment to the High Court and subsequently arranged for her release from the Chambers of the Director of Public Prosecutions where she was assistant director. The Chancellor said that he also had a hand in the appointment of Gregory-Barnes and was responsible for the recent elevation of Justice Claudette Singh as a Justice of Appeal.

Justice Kennard said too that his relationship with the women in the judiciary and magistracy had always been good though there had been minor disagreements in relation to work. Also, he said that his relationship with the Chief Justice, Desiree Bernard, was very good as well as with other members of the legal profession.

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