THE HONOURABLE Mme. JUSTICE JOAN CHARLES
It is my distinct pleasure, on the behalf the Steering Committee, to welcome you to Trinidad and Tobago, the southernmost islands of the Caribbean and home for Launch and Inaugural Conference of the Caribbean Association of Women Judges which is organised around the theme “The Law and the Protection of Children.”
We meet in Port of Spain, the capital city of this twin island Republic, blessed with the unique culture that only a diverse population such as ours can offer. We hope that attendees can sample our cuisine which is a mix of Indian, Chinese, Creole and Lebanese as well as experience our exciting world renowned steelband music.
Our mandate, as judges, must assume the flexibility and responsiveness necessary to meet the changing face of our social environments. We must continue to instil confidence in the judicial system and properly manage the trust reposed in us as we dispense justice in an equitable manner making the doors of the Court accessible to all. As such the objects of the CAWJ include:
i. Promoting women’s access to the courts and advancing women’s rights to equal justice;
ii. Eliminating gender bias from judicial systems in the Caribbean;
The organization will also:
i. Engage in, fund, sponsor and/or promote research and study programmes that contribute to the understanding and resolution of legal issues facing women, and encourage cooperation and collaboration among women judges of all nations;
ii. Sensitize the public and the members of the Judiciary about human rights law and the role of the Judiciary in implementing laws which equally promote and protect the rights of all women.
iii. Engage in, fund, sponsor or promote the research, analysis, compilation, publication and/or distribution of educational materials to engender increased understanding and competence among women judges.
I must reiterate, however, that the most diligent application of the law alone is insufficient to treat with the critical social issues that plague our society and as such an additional kind of intervention is necessary. The problems include violence both within and without the home; and the abuse and neglect of our women and children. Magistrates and Judges see firsthand the breakdown of the family and the deleterious effect thereof. We must enter the domain and bring change to our social environment such as our office will allow. The CAWJ will, as part of delivery process engage in advocacy, mentorship and embark on our first project “Family Support Network and Violence Reduction Programme.”
In 2013 there were more than 3,000 reports of violence against women and children in Trinidad and Tobago. The legislative agendas, albeit laudable, fail to address certain systemic issues and fundamental pillars necessary to ensure a more robust and timely intervention programme designed to protect these vulnerable groups. It is this lacuna, the extended silence, that we seek to speak to in the proposed project in order to give legs to our verbal commitment to protecting our children and towards ending violence against women. This model will include properly structured and efficiently functioning Counsellors. This proactive approach is aimed at minimising the exposure of our children and women to physical and sexual violence.
We recognise that the component parts of this concept may not be novel, but as a group we seek to build on initiatives such as the Bail Boys Project – an undertaking devised and executed by His Excellency in his former office of High Court Judge; and to bring together the various resources to develop a robust system of intervention.