In her more than four decades of practising law, president of the Law Association of TT (LATT) Lynette Seebaran-Suite has been an advocate for the rights of women, children and vulnerable groups.
Among some of the topics she has tackled are land tenants’ rights, domestic violence, sexual harassment in the workplace, disability in the workplace, abortion law reform, and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Seebaran-Suite, 69, graduated from the UWI Faculty of Law in 1975 and the Hugh Wooding Law School in 1977, and has been practising for 46 years. She was called to the Bar in 1977 and specialises in family law.
After graduating in 1977 she started working as a legal research officer at the Law Reform Commission where, for 18 months, she helped to revise and update the country’s 1976 laws. Then, in 1980, she was invited to enter private practice in chambers headed by Michael De La Bastide, QC.
“From a very early age, through a combination of factors – natural inclination, encouragement of my spouse, Professor emeritus of UWI Winston Suite, the example of my parents – I began advocacy and research in the international women’s movement and education of the public on things legal.”
She said both her parents were activists – her father in politics and his community in Caroni Village, and her mother as a trade unionist and in her credit union – so she grew up around the ideas of social consciousness and public service. Her father retired as a permanent secretary in the Ministry of National Security and her mother, who died in May, was one of the founding members of TT Association of Retired Persons. Seebaran-Suite said she always took notice of her father’s dominion over her mother even though they were equally educated.
In her quest to educate the public, she was often a guest on TTT journalist Tony Deyal’s 6.30 pm talk show Issues and Ideas. There she explained the new Family Law, Status of Children, and Sexual Offences Acts to the public. The changes included the introduction of consensual divorce and the idea of marital rape, a child’s status of illegitimacy to inheritance was abolished and a method where paternity could be established was determined.
In the 1980s, she did some training within the medical profession surrounding testing for HIV/ Aids and people’s rights such as the ethics and principles of requiring informed consent, confidentiality, and pre and post-test counselling. In 1992, she left the chambers of De La Bastide to form her own law firm, Seebaran Lynette and Co, and in 2012, she was given a national award for Women in Development, Gold, in the field of law.
In 2019, Seebaran-Suite's direct intervention with the commissioner of police at the time led to the establishment of the TTPS Gender-Based Violence Unit, and as chair of the Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC) from 2014-2020, she promoted advocacy for the rights of those in the LGBTQI community. Under her leadership, the EOC also created handbooks to address sexual harassment in the workplace, domestic violence, and best practices to treat with disability in the workplace. Her work and advocacy over the years led to an honorary doctor of laws by the UWI in November 2021.
Through it all, she said, her husband, a black power advocate from the 1970s, influenced, guided, supported and encouraged her as, although they were married in 1988, they were in a relationship 12 years previously. The couple has one daughter, a medical doctor, Dara-Chameli, and one grandson, Jasper.
“I’m very very happy to be a grandmother at last. He is the light of my life. Jasper rules the roost at this time. Unfortunately they live in England but I see them very frequently.”
Seebaran-Suite became president of LATT on April 4, a one-year term, and was appointed senior counsel on May 12.
She is very proud of her LATT presidency. She said it is a difficult job but someone had to do it. She believes with her long history in the legal profession and the law association, and the fact that she is senior to all the judges in the Court of Appeal, she knows she is the right person for the job.
She said LATT is a statutory body created by the Legal Profession Act (1986). It governs and disciplines members of the legal profession and operates on a system of committees.
There are 17 external committees where a LATT nominee is required to sit on statutory bodies such as the Medical Board or the Board of Architecture. There are also 24 active internal committees including the human rights, continuing legal education, events and entertainment, legislative review, library, bench/bar and disciplinary committees. She said the standing disciplinary committee is always very busy. It sits twice a week to hear complaints by clients against attorneys even though many complaints have no merit.
“The disciplinary committee is performing a quasi-judicial function because they are imposing a penal sanction up to striking one off the roll of attorneys.
“You have to do that very carefully so it’s a slow process, which is an endemic problem with all legal processes. There is a built-in institutionalised delay mechanism. There are many items that are settled but they may not be settled early.”
She said there is a pleadings phase to start off the paperwork in which a person cannot give the other side less than a month to reply to a document that has been filed. The discovery phase allows time for information from third parties to be collected, and the trial phase occurs when a matter is not settled so is remitted to the tribunal.
“And the law has gotten so complex now, with the elaboration of the rights of due process, both to the person accused and the person bringing the accusation, that the due process rules are a minefield, especially for the tribunals that are not strictly speaking, high or magistrates courts.”
She said LATT is also working on some major initiatives including a law library, contributing to the publication, The Lawyer, and a permanent public relations function to upgrade the association's social media presence and to better inform people of what its roles and functions.