Sun | Jan 20, 2019

EDITORIAL - The legacy of Bernice Lake

Published:Friday | September 23, 2011 | 12:00 AM

Editor's Note:

Yesterday's editorial on Bernice Lake stated that she lived most of her life in Jamaica. She, in fact, lived mainly in Antigua.
We apologise for the error.

Bernice Lake was not widely known in Jamaica, so her death, at 78, in Antigua a fortnight ago and burial a week later was, understandably, hardly noticed here.

Yet, Jamaica did not escape the power of her inquisitive mind and sharp intellect, of which this newspaper made good use in its argument for fairness in and before the law, transparency in government, and the validity of expanding press freedom.

Ms Lake was born in Anguilla, but lived most of her adult life in Antigua and embraced the Caribbean. She was an early graduate of what was then the University College of the West Indies at Mona before becoming a junior member of the foreign service of the West Indies Federation.

The collapse of the federation led to her study of law, the field in which she would make her outstanding contribution to the region - as advocate and public intellectual. Indeed, Bernice Lake, outspoken and fearless, was involved in several landmark human rights and press freedom cases in the Caribbean.

But as important as her courtroom advocacy was, her thinking, writing and lecturing on matters of justice and the relationship between the State and its citizens are equally noteworthy.

Consideration of defamation laws

Some of those contributions were made from platforms in Jamaica, such as her observations at a 2003 seminar, which we have in the past commended to the Jamaican Government for consideration in the review of the country's defamation laws.

Noting the absolute privilege enjoyed by politicians for statements made in the legislature and the limits placed on the press and public when criticising leaders, Ms Lake said: "When he throws his hat in the National Arena, the politician does so on the basis of an implied promise to promote and protect free speech on the social interest of honest, open and accountable government.

"He does so with the concomitant subordination of the right to privacy. Upon the assumption of office, he makes that promise expressly."

Political and leadership obligation

It is a characterisation of political and leadership obligation that was resisted by Jamaican legislators, who rejected suggestions that would make it more difficult for public officials to pursue libel suits over statements relating to their conduct in office. The argument, in our view, is compelling. Indeed, we again commend Ms Lake's concept to Prime Minister Bruce Golding.

Ms Lake, too, was an advocate for the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), the logic of which, and the court's insulation from political interference, she never doubted. But in keeping with her spirit of independence, she was never an uncritical follower of anything. So, in an article published by this newspaper, she warned against any attempt by the court to legislate from the Bench, and urged the legal profession to be a watchdog against this.

As Baldwin Spencer, the Antiguan prime minister noted, accession by the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States to the CCJ would be a fitting legacy to Ms Lake.

But Bernice Lake has left another legacy to this region: her thoughts and ideas.

The opinions on this page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email us: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.