It is noticeable that women today have flooded the legal profession which only a few years ago was mainly a profession dominated by men.
I go back to my childhood days in the early 1940s when as far as I can recall there was only one female solicitor in New Amsterdam, Ms Hyacinth Eleazer who later was married to Dr Cunningham. Then in the early 1950s Ms Enid Lukhoo became a solicitor. Until then there was no women barrister-at-law.
The first women to become barristers-at-law were Ms Norma Jackman, Ms Elvy Edwards, Ms Natalie Agard and Ms Shirley Field-Ridley. They were all well qualified in law three of them having the LLM. At the same time there were two female solicitors, Ms Sheila Chapman – Mr Raphael Trotman’s mother – and Ms Desiree Bernard. This was in the 1960s. Later on came Ms Claudette La Bennett and others in the 1970s.
I mention Ms La Bennett because as far I can recall she was the first female lawyer ever to present a criminal case in the High Court. Now women lawyers seem to outnumber male lawyers, as can be seen if one attends Bail Court or Chambers. Also the magistracy is occupied by women, and men magistrates have become a scarcity.
Having said all this it cannot be disputed that women have done well in the legal profession and have made their mark. Just recently Justice Desiree Bernard on her retirement was recognized for her contribution in various fields and more recently the whole of Guyana said goodbye to the late Deborah Backer in glorious terms.
There is a female Solicitor General in Ms Sita Ramlall, a female Director of Public Prosecution, a female Court of Appeal judge, and four female judges in the High Court. All these positions were once dominated by male lawyers. In the case of the DPP and Solicitor General, the holder of these positions would normally be appointed Senior Counsel. It seems very, very strange that to date no female lawyer has ever been appointed Senior Counsel in Guyana. All over the Caribbean women are appointed Senior Counsel but not here. Is this because of a lack of respect for the contribution women have made to the legal profession?
Something seems to be radically wrong; for the last five years no appointment of Senior Counsel has been made. For over nine years the two top positions in the legal system – the Chancellor and the Chief Justice – have been acting. This does not augur well for the legal profession. Instead of going up the ladder we seem to be sliding down.
Maybe the time has come to have a commission of enquiry into the legal profession so as to be able to arrive at what steps ought to be taken to have a dependable system. In Guyana we have experienced and capable attomeys-at-law such as Mr Bryn Pollard, Mr Rex McKay, Mr Ashton Chase and Mr Keith Massiah to name a few, who knew the legal system of old and are capable of giving advice as to what should now happen.
Jonas M F Coddett