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Sunday 21 July 2019
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Gender equality takes a step forward

Ending gender-based discrimination is the fifth of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.T he recent approval of a gender protocol for local courts was lauded by Justice Education Institute (JEITT) chairman Peter Jamadar as an important advance in this country’s efforts to bring gender equality under law to all its citizens.

“There is a lot of bias, a lot of gaps in how we see things. There are a lot of stereotypes around issues in relation to custody, maintenance, rape, all forms of gender based violence,” said Justice Jamadar.

As early as April 2017, Barbados became the first nation in CARICOM to develop a draft Gender Equality Protocol for Magistrates and Judges. Trinidad and Tobago became the first Commonwealth Caribbean nation to approve such a protocol this month, adopting guidelines that will guide steps to improve procedural fairness for all the people of this country who come to court seeking justice. It will, if commonsense prevails, not be the last.

The Caribbean Court of Justice has worked diligently to develop the framework of the gender programme which it hopes will be implemented in judicial systems throughout the Caribbean. In September 2017, CCJ President, Sir Charles Michael Dennis Byron explained that “The protocols are designed to assist magistrates and judges to adjudicate without gender bias.”

The guidelines are part of a larger gender sensitisation training project that will assist judicial officers and court personnel in creating an enabling environment for improving fairness in legal proceedings. Issues of judicial bias, the formation of preconception, the challenges of stereotyping and the specific issues related to multiple and intersectional discrimination are addressed. Cases involving gender-based violence, custody maintenance and human trafficking are also subject to potential cultural misinterpretation and misunderstanding. The CCJ has already begun a programme of gender sensitisation training for its staff and officers.

The implementation of the gender protocol falls squarely into the mission of the JEITT, which was pioneered by former Chief Justice Michael de la Bastide and which has been a cornerstone of judicial education throughout its existence. The institute now faces the challenge of not only offering this robust reorientation to the judges, magistrates and court staff that are its area of focus, it must guide legal practitioners to develop and support a truly gender neutral court system.

This may well be the most significant and far reaching educational project that the institute has undertaken in a history of continuous learning and adaptation that reaches back to 1995, when Michael de la Bastide began a system of retreats for judges to consider their craft. For local jurisprudence it’s an opportunity to more deeply honour the principle of the mythic Themis, the lady with the scales, who promises equal justice under law.

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