Time for action
By Andre Bagoo Friday, March 28 2014
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Legal minds: Executive director of the International Association of Women Judges Joan Winship, left, with Justice Desiree Bernard, right, the keynote ...
AMID ongoing concerns over the social issues facing children today, a group of women judges has taken the step to tackle the issues. And for Justice Desiree Bernard, it is high time.
“The time for action is now,” Bernard, the Commonwealth’s first female Chief Justice (Guyana), said at the opening of the inaugural conference of the Caribbean Association of Women Judges (CAWJ). The conference is hoped to be one of a series of projects designed to deal with social issues.
Her call came as Chief Justice Ivor Archie also urged judges to take a more active role in tackling social issues within the frame-work of the law.
At the conference, which opened at the Hyatt Regency, Dock Road, Port-of-Spain, several workshops were held on topics such as “The Courts and the Protection of Children”; “Children in Care/Custody in the Caribbean”; “Domestic Violence and its Effect on Children”. Today, the three-day conference is expected to enter its second day and will focus on issues such as single-parent families.
Bernard yesterday rallied the troops, saying “the time for action is now” on issues children face such as violence and abuse.
“How do we protect and save the children of the region?” she said. “There is a pressing need to address and highlight some of the issues which children face.” Among these issues, she said, were: child sexual abuse; violence against minors; trafficking in children and teenage pregnancies. She called for more public awareness of international law which call on nation states to protect children and lamented gaps in implementation.
Bernard lamented the problem of absent fathers and broken families.
“Young boys find within gangs what they do not find in their families,” she said. “The gangs become their families with destructive consequences.” She knocked some fathers’ abdication of responsibilities noting the endless cases in court of fathers not complying with child maintenance orders.
Also addressing the opening was Justice Joan Charles who said the objectives of the CAWJ would include: promoting women’s access to the courts and to equal justice; eliminating gender bias from judicial systems.
“Magistrates and judges see firsthand the breakdown of the family and the deleterious effect thereof. We must enter the domain and bring change to our social environment such as our office will allow,” she said. The CAWJ will engage in advocacy, mentorship and embark on a first project called the “Family Support Network and Violence Reduction Programme”. At the same event, Chief Justice Ivor Archie also called for a more active role judges in social issues.
“These women judges have agreed that they will not stand by and with that position I concur,” the Chief Justice said. “Being a judge carries with it a social responsibility and it would be remiss if, as human beings, not to attempt to alleviate the social ills and tragedies to which we are all witness.”
The Chief Justice submitted that every judge has a duty to uphold the constitutional right to liberty and security of person.
Legal minds: Executive director of the International Association of Women Judges Joan Winship, left, with Justice Desiree Bernard, right, the keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the Caribbean Association of Women Judges at Hyatt Regency, Port-of-Spain yesterday. Photo by Rattan Jadoo