Dame Bernice Lake, DGCN, QC, BA Hons, LLB (Lond) Hon. LLD UWI
Before making her mark in constitutional law and human rights, Dame Bernice had a budding career in the diplomatic service for the West Indies Federation. After its collapse, she pursued studies in law and began a distinguished career spanning more than 40 years.
Early life and education
Born in Anguilla on 28 December 1933, Dame Bernice attended the Girls High School (which became the Basseterre High School after a merger with the Grammar School) in Basseterre. She later and taught at Girls High School and at one time acted Principal. She then travelled to Jamaica to pursue studies in History at a newly-established University College of the West Indies. The college would later be known as the University of the West Indies. She graduated, with honours, and began a career in the diplomatic service of the West Indies Federation. After the 1962 collapse of the Federation, Dame Bernice opted to study law at University College of London.
Dame Bernice made her home in Antigua where she established the highly respected chambers, Lake & Kentish with attorney Kendrickson Kentish. Her extensive work on constitutions within the Leewards made her an expert in the field of constitutional law. Not only was she the main architect of the Anguilla Constitution in 1975, she was part of the team that framed Antigua and Barbuda’s Constitution in 1981. As a member of the Council of the University of the West Indies for many years, she brought her clear, analytical mind and formidable legal skills to bear on the deliberations of that body. The Chancellor, Sir George Alleyne, who chairs the Council, has lauded her quiet dignity and incisive contributions to the discussions.
Dame Bernice was the first woman in the Eastern Caribbean and the first University of the West Indies graduate to be bestowed the distinguished title of Queens Counsel.
Honours and awards
The Antiguan government bestowed a knighthood on Dame Bernice in 2004, for her contribution to the legal field, her stance on women’s issues, civil and political rights, and personal integrity. She was conferred with an Honorary Doctorate of Law by her alma mater, The University of the West Indies, in 2007 at the Cave Hill graduation.
In July 2011, Lake was honoured by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, the Anguilla and OECS Bar Associations and other members of the legal fraternity. At that event, Justice Louise Blenman applauded the jurist for fearlessly championing the causes of the ordinary man and woman who were being disadvantaged. “She was in the forefront of several struggles which earned her a reputation as one of the finest minds in the entire Caribbean,” the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court justice said. “In fact, throughout the entire Caribbean, Dame Bernice is known for her scholarship… and for her very high ethical standards. She has an impenetrable integrity and strength of conviction that is unparalleled and with all of this, she is epiphany of dignity.”
Similarly, Chief Justice Hugh Rawlins, who also spoke at the event, applauded Dame Bernice’s four decades of service to the profession. “At the end of the day, the legacy, as far as I am concerned, would be in the person who you are. That cannot be erased and so we thank you for your pioneering work in the law in the OECS jurisdiction,” the chief justice said. He added, “We thank you for your constancy… your bravery, your honesty, your integrity, your love for the law; and I think love for literature and language.”
Dame Bernice Lake passed away Saturday 10 September 2011 at the Mount St. John’s Medical Centre in Antigua following a brief illness. She was 78 years old. Her funeral was held at St Peters Parish Church in St. John's with burial in the churchyard.