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Former CCJ president dies

March 30, 2024

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago-based Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) is mourning the deaths of two former justices, just a few days apart.

The court said that on Saturday, the CCJ’s first President, Justice Michael de la Bastide died, while on Thursday, retired CCJ Judge, Justice Désirée Bernard, died at the age of 85.

In a statement,  the CCJ said Justice de la Bastide steered the Court from its inauguration until his retirement in 2011.

“Justice de la Bastide was an exemplary jurist. Having received a sterling education in Trinidad and Tobago and the United Kingdom in his formative years, he served as an Independent Senator in Trinidad and Tobago’s Parliament. He was an exceptionally successful attorney-at-law and also President of the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago.”

He was appointed Chief Justice of Trinidad and Tobago directly from private practice in 1995. 

The following year, he was awarded the country’s then-highest national honour, the Trinity Cross. 

After demitting office as Chief Justice in 2002, he was appointed as a member of the Privy Council by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 2004 and elected as President of the Caribbean Court of Justice on 18 August 2004. 

In 2021, he published his book “Within the Law, Memoirs of a Caribbean Jurist” to great acclaim. 

His words “Be intolerant. Be intolerant of incompetence, of inefficiency, and inertia. Be as intolerant of these as you are or should be of injustice. If intolerance of this kind would spread, who knows what wonders we might perform” sums up his life’s devotion to the law and humanity.

CCJ President,  Justice Adrian Saunders, remembers  Justice de la Bastide, saying, “It was an extraordinary honour and privilege to have worked alongside President de la Bastide. His razor sharp mind, his prodigious knowledge of the law and his tremendous experience exerted a profound influence on me. I express deepest condolences to his dear wife and family.”

Justice Michael de la Bastide (Photo provided by CMC.)

And the regional court is also mourning the death of retired CCJ Judge, Justice Désirée Bernard, who passed away earlier this week.

Justice Bernard was a member of the inaugural CCJ Bench in 2005 and she provided exemplary service to the Court until her retirement in 2014.

A citizen of Guyana, Justice Désirée Bernard established a number of professional “firsts”: the first female High Court Judge of the Supreme Court of Guyana (1980); the first female Justice of Appeal (1992); the first female Chief Justice of Guyana and the Commonwealth Caribbean (1996); and first female Chancellor of the Judiciary of Guyana and in the Commonwealth Caribbean (2001).

“It is well nigh impossible that the region will ever produce another trailblazer as Justice Bernard was. She was a tremendous role model and while it is tempting to focus on her contribution in inspiring generations of women regionally and internationally, her influence in the region generally, in the creation of the OCCBA and in the development of our Caribbean jurisprudence, must not be forgotten. It was an absolute privilege and pleasure to work alongside her,” said CCJ President,  Justice Adrian Saunders. 

As the first female jurist on the CCJ Bench, Justice Bernard was also a source of inspiration to others in the judicial fraternity. 

 Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee,  one such mentee, reminisced saying “Justice Bernard was a great friend, mentor, mother, and sister to all. She was the first Patron of the Caribbean Association of Women Judges. We stand on her shoulders. What amazed me most about Justice Bernard was that she was so self-effacing. She just couldn’t understand why we thought so much of her. Kindness and humility were her virtues. May she rest in peace, and may her memory be a blessing.”

For her contribution to the improvement of the status of women and to the development and practice of law,  Justice Bernard received several awards, the most notable being the Cacique Crown of Honour, and the Order of Roraima, Guyana’s third and second-highest national awards, respectively. In July 2005, she was awarded the CARICOM Triennial Award for Women.

She was also awarded the degree of Doctor of Laws (honoris causa) by The University of the West Indies in November 2007. 

With the deaths of two retired justices, the CCJ says it will open a condolence book to the public on Wednesday, in recognition of the sterling contributions of  Justice Bernard and Justice de la Bastide.

Justice Désirée Bernard

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