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Justice Gertel Thom ends stint at SVG High Court

Justice Gertel Thom ends stint at SVG High Court

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High Court judge Gertel Thom was unable to hold back the tears earlier this week, as she bid farewell to the jurisdiction she has served for the past nine and a half years.

Thom, who was recently appointed to the post of Court of Appeal Judge of the Eastern Caribbean Court, will take up her new duties, effective September 1, in St Lucia.{{more}}

In recognition of her stint here, a special sitting was held for the Guyanese national at the High Court on Wednesday, August 6.

Less than a sentence into her speech, Thom began weeping, using a piece of tissue repeatedly to wipe her face. In her address, she attributed her recent elevation to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines.

“You have been extremely generous since I have been here. You are the reason why I am going here,” Thom said.

Thom expressed her gratitude to the Government for being a wonderful host to her during her tenure.

“I have experienced nothing but true separation of powers. I thank the Government of St Vincent and the Grenadines,” she said.

According to Thom, when she took up assignment as a judge on May 1, 2005, she hardly knew anyone here. She said, over the years, she got to know many of the lawyers – some of whom taught her a lot.

Thom spoke highly of prominent attorney, Kay Bacchus Browne, whom she described as a “fiery” attorney, who never left any stone unturned.

“She’s diligent, committed to her case and would fight every single issue to the end. I enjoyed her,” the judge chuckled.

She also mentioned other counsel such as Patricia Marks, Ronald Marks, Julian Jack, Zinga Horne Edwards and Anique Cummings.

“There was that wide range. Emery Robertson and Dr [Linton] Lewis, they taught me patience,” she said as other counsel erupted in laughter. The judge said counsel Samuel Commissiong and Queen’s Counsel Parnel Campbell taught her about punctuality.

Thom also took the court on a trip down memory lane, recalling some of her most memorable cases she presided over in the High Court.

According to her, some persons might have thought that she was harsh with them when they appeared before her, but she did so because she saw their talent.

“All I wanted to do is bring out the best in you. There are a lot of lawyers that come to St Vincent. There is no reason why lawyers in St Vincent cannot also build a regional practice. The talent is there. All I was seeking to do is to ensure that that talent was brought out, so when you step outside of St Vincent, you would shine,” Thom said.

Thom said her only regret is that a Bench Bar Committee was not established during her time here. She said such a committee could only enhance the quality of jurisprudence and the discharge of justice.

She thanked Justice Frederick Bruce-Lyle and his wife for being close friends with her over all these years. She further thanked Bruce-Lyle for his assistance on certain legal matters.

Thom thanked her family, the court staff, bailiffs, police officers, whom she described as committed and hardworking, adding that they became like her extended family.

She also thanked the Dean Patrick McIntosh and his wife of the St George’s Cathedral, and the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Kingstown.

“Moving is always challenging, but I know that God who brought here, who has sustained throughout my time, will go before me and with me, will continue to guide and direct me. I thank you for your love and warmth and I ask that you continue to pray for me. Thank you so, so much. I will truly miss you,” Thom said, as she received a standing ovation.

Other members of the local Bar also shared brief remarks at the special sitting.

Attorney General Judith Jones-Morgan conveyed best wishes to Thom and said that she is confident that Thom would make a “marvellous” addition to the Court of Appeal.

“She has distinguished herself because of her excellent spirit. Her knowledge of the scriptures, her desire to continue to see the development of the law, her infectious laughter and her reputation for integrity, are the hallmarks of a quality judge,” Jones-Morgan stated.

Director of Public Prosecutions Colin Williams extended congratulations to Justice Thom on the new chapter of her life. Williams said what stood out most about Justice Thom was the fact that she proceeded in dispensing her matters in a thorough and methodical way.

“We at the office of the DPP are convinced and satisfied that Justice Thom is a worthy candidate of where she is going to be and will continue to enhance the strengthening of our whole judicial proceedings here in St Vincent and the Grenadines,” Williams said.

Speaking from the Inner Bar, Queen’s Counsel Parnel Campbell told Thom that she has made history in the Caribbean with her elevation to the Court of Appeal.

“Your elevation to the Court of Appeal means that in the Commonwealth Caribbean, our Court of Appeal is the only Court of Appeal with a majority of female judges,” he said.

Campbell said in the Bahamas, there’s no female justice of appeal and that there is only one female appeal court judge in Barbados out of five.

“In Belize, none of the four members of the Court of Appeal is a female. In Guyana there is only one out of four. There are three of seven in Jamaica and three of 10 in Trinidad and Tobago. Further afield, in the Commonwealth in New Zealand, two of nine are females. There are nine females of 22 in South Africa and in Canada three of nine Supreme Court judges are females,” Campbell outlined.

The Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court has five full-time appeal court judges, of which three – Chief Justice Janice Mesadis Pereira, Louise Blenman and Gertel Thom are women. The other two are Davidson Baptiste and Mario Michel.

“We in the OECS can fly the flag of ascendancy of the female gender… The numerical superiority of women is becoming more and more,” Campbell stated.

He said Thom’s worth as a judge, while it may not have been reflected in the small turnout of lawyers, has to be measured in the intensity of respect for her.

Stanley John Q.C., who also spoke from the Inner Bar, spoke on the quality of Thom’s judgements.

“The quality of your judgements is also a hallmark of the quality of the advocacy we are capable of in this jurisdiction. By virtue of the fact that I have appeared before you, I consider that I have become a better lawyer. Your ladyship has been a source of encouragement, guiding, supporting and assisting me in providing better representation of my clients,” he said.

Other addresses came from president of the St Vincent and the Grenadines Bar Association, Rene Baptiste, Queen’s Counsel Bertram Commissiong, Nicole Sylvester and Arthur Williams from the Utter Bar and Anique Cummings.

Presiding judge Justice Frederick Bruce-Lyle chose to adopt the comments of those who spoke before him and said he would speak to Thom in private.

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