The attorney, 78, died on Saturday at Mount St John’s Medical Centre after a brief illness.
She was born in Anguilla, schooled in St Kitts and eventually made Antigua her home, where she practiced law from her Chambers – Lake and Kentish.
“It is a tremendous loss,” Lake and Kentish partner Kendrickson Kentish told The Daily OBSERVER. “Dame Bernice had an enormous influence on everyone in the office. She demanded excellence from all of us and she inspired the unwavering loyalty of her staff.
“It’s important to note that most of the staff have been with her for, on average, 20 years and when one encounters that type of longevity in a business establishment, you would readily appreciate the dedication which characterised the employment relationship,” he said.
“Her loss is a void that could never be filled,” he added.
Prior to making her mark in constitutional law and human rights, Dame Bernice taught in St Kitts. 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.
“I was privileged to meet her there in 1964 as a humble freshman while she was a queen of the Students Union and as I remember her, she brought real class to that ferment of student agitation in the days of anti-apartheid and other student protests,” UWI Professor Henry Fraser remarked of her in 2007.
In 1967, she earned an Honours Degree in Law, was called to the Bar in St Kitts and moved on to launch a distinguished career, establishing herself as a thorough and formidable attorney with a deep sense of passion for justice.
“In respect of Caribbean jurisprudence, she has certainly left her mark,” Attorney General Justin Simon, QC, told The Daily OBSERVER. “I think her loss is a great loss to OECS territories, since this is where her practice was mainly based.
“Miss Lake was a very formidable person, disciplined; she was very thorough, she had an intense love of the law… and she treated every matter very, very seriously.”
Simon added, “When one listened to Ms Lake in respect of her delivery, I do not think there were many who equalled her strength in that field and her sense of conviction. I for one consider it very unfortunate that she was not on the Court of Appeal. In fact there was a time when a number of us here at the Antigua & Barbuda bar encouraged her to go on the Court of Appeal because we thought her contribution there would be immense.”
Her extensive work on constitutions within the Leewards made her an expert in the field. Not only was she the main architect of the Anguilla Constitution in 1975, she was part of the team that framed Antigua & Barbuda’s Constitution in 1981.
Fellow Queen’s Counsel Sydney Christian, who was a member of that team, remembered her as an excellent attorney and one of the brightest at the bar.
“She was very much in the forefront of the fight for constitutional law and she was always very aggressive in her defence of the Constitution here in Antigua,” Christian said upon hearing of her passing.
As a respected attorney, Dame Bernice was considered a trailblazer. She 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.
She was knighted in 2004 by the Antiguan & Barbudan government for her contribution to the legal field, her stance on women’s issues, civil and political rights and her personal integrity. Three years later, she was awarded an Honourary Doctorate of Law Degree from her Alma Mater – The University of the West Indies.
In July, 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.”