Honouring Chancellor Desiree Bernard
By Vanda Radzik
May 27, 2001
The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers congratulates its founding president as Guyana's first female chancellor.
It was considered appropriate that we publicly salute Chancellor Bernard who has served her nation with distinction and has been an inspiration to many Guyanese women in their quest for higher things. Many persons may just know of Chancellor Bernard, without knowing a lot about her worthy contributions. It was thought that this was a golden opportunity to publicly salute her and to convey how proud we are.
Desire Patricia Bernard was born in the late 1930s in Guyana. She was fortunate to have spent much of her early years in all three of Guyana's counties. She attended primary schools in Essequibo, Berbice and at Plaisance, Demerara, then won a free place at Bishops' High School, Georgetown. Chancellor Bernard was originally inclined towards teaching as a profession. However, attendance at one class held by Mr Fred Wills, legal scholar, raised her interest in the law and pursuit was instead made of a legal career. After graduating with the Bachelor of Laws, Honours, in 1963, she practised for approximately 16 years as a solicitor, giving service for a brief period, as a magistrate.
Bernard was sworn in as a judge of the High Court in 1980, and became a justice of appeal and later chief justice in 1994 and 1997, respectively. The attainment of chancellor of the judiciary, of course, came but a few weeks ago, May 4, 2001.
While pursuing an undoubtedly distinguished legal career. Chancellor Bernard used these skills and her natural influence, to draw attention to the deficiencies in the law in relation to women, in particular, and children. Hence, she has written on the law on women and children prior to some of the reforms which later came. The equal rights of women and children, property rights of women, discrimination, and domestic violence were all issues which were expounded on by Bernard. For several years she served as a member and also as chairperson of the United Nations Committee for the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). The Children Born out of Wedlock (Removal of Discrimination) Act, 1983, Equal Rights Act, 1990, Married Persons Property (Amendment) Act, 1990 and Family and Dependants Provision Act, 1990 all resulted from recommendations made by a special committee was chaired by Justice Bernard. She also chaired the Family Matters and Maintenance Committee from 1996-1997 which again made recommendations for the reform of family law in Guyana.
- National Award - Cacique Crown of Honour - 1985
- University of Guyana - Award for Achievement in law 1989
- UWI - Guild of Graduates - 1992
- Bishops' High School Old Students' Association, New York Chapter Award - 1992
- Bishops' High School Alumni Achievement Award - 1999
- Charter President of the Georgetown Toastmistress Club
- Member of the Council of the University of Guyana, 1971 -1993
- President, Organisation of Commonwealth Caribbean Bar Associations, 1976 -1978
- Chairperson, Georgetown Legal Aid Clinic, 1994
- Chancellor of the Anglican Diocese, 1994
- Member of Board of Governors of Bishops' High School (Representative of Bishops' High School Old Students' Association)
- Secretary, Caribbean Women's Association (CARIWA), 1973
- Founder member of the umbrella organisation - Conference on the Affairs and Status of Women in Guyana
- Founder member and first President of the Guyana Association of Women
Her personal life
Chancellor Bernard is the mother of Carol Ann Bernard, a UWI-trained Attorney-at-Law, who lives and works overseas. She also has a grandson and until her mother's demise was a very devoted daughter.
Chancellor Bernard is a deeply religious person who has given and continues to give yeoman service to the Anglican Diocese of Guyana.
Her interests include travelling and promoting women's rights. She also enjoys the game of cricket.
Chancellor Bernard has been, in the words of the school song of her alma mater, a "true comrade and true friend" and mentor to many. She always urges young lawyers, especially women lawyers to strive for the top and to always aim for excellence.
"It is much pride and a great deal of pleasure that I offer warmest congratulations to Ms Bernard on her accession to the office of chancellor of the judiciary of Guyana. This is the pinnacle of her career, starting from the position of solicitor in private practice to this highest office in the judicial arm of government. This elevation is well-deserved. As a friend and colleague, I know her to be dedicated to the high principles and practices of her profession and to be responsible and reliable in the conduct of her duties. I know her to be warm and compassionate with much humility and generosity. I know that she values honesty and fairness and has respect for others, nurtured as she has been in the Christian faith. Even as many of us applaud her success at this time, we are conscious of the fact that she will need greater strength, dedication, and commitment than ever before to fulfil the oath of office to continue to serve 'without fear or favour, affection or ill-will, so help me God'.
With every good wish and God's richest blessings,"
Magda Pollard, former head, Women's Desk, CARICOM
Former chairperson, National Commission on Women
Consultant Women Affairs
"The Women's Affairs Bureau applauds the appointment of the Chancellor Bernard, the first woman to hold such a position in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean. We see women's equality as a central component of any attempt to solve the world's social, economic and political problems.
We celebrate this appointment. We are sure that with the support, determination and courage of other women, she will carry out her functions successfully and continue to make all women in Guyana and the Caribbean proud."
Congratulations and best wishes, Hazel Hally-Burnett Administrator, Women's Affairs Bureau.