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Top judge steps down after three decades in Supreme Court

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Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons, pictured in her robes outside Sessions House (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)
A special sitting of the Supreme Court is held to commemorate the retirement of Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

The first Bermudian-born Black woman to serve as a Supreme Court judge has stood down after almost 30 years on the bench.

Puisne Judge Charles-Etta Simmons was involved in some of the island’s biggest cases over her distinguished career, including her landmark 2017 decision in Godwin and DeRoche et al v. the Registrar-General that ruled that same-sex marriage in Bermuda was legal.

Rod Attride-Stirling, a lawyer who was involved in several landmark marriage equality cases in Bermuda, said: “That judgment was courageous and it was brilliant and it led the way for everything that followed including civil unions which we now have.”

Mr Attride-Stirling added that the ruling had created a “sea change” of opinion as most Bermudians were now in favour of same-sex marriage, although the majority were against it at the time of the judgment.

He was speaking at a special session of the Supreme Court yesterday to mark Mrs Justice Simmons’ retirement.

Cindy Clarke, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the first Bermudian woman to hold the position, paid tribute to Justice Simmons’ “abundant wisdom”.

Ms Clarke said: “She had an enormous capacity to listen, not only to what was said directly but also to what was left unsaid.

“She had good sense, good grace, good humour and good courage.”

Mark Pettingill, a lawyer who also argued in favour of same-sex marriage and a former Attorney-General, added that Mrs Justice Simmons judgment “set out in unequivocal terms what human rights and equal rights should be about”.

He added: “That really was a significant and wonderful judgment and it stands the test of time.”

Elizabeth Christopher, a prominent barrister, said that Mrs Justice Simmons’s style was firm but fair.

She added: “Nobody felt that they had been treated badly.”

Ms Christopher said Mrs Justice Simmons had treated all her clients on equal terms.

She told Mrs Justice Simmons: “You looked each one in the eye … you never looked down on anyone.”

Michael Smith, another lawyer, said the same-sex marriage ruling was Mrs Justice Simmons’ “crowning judgment” and one which “recognised that discrimination has no place in our society”.

Mrs Justice Simmons was appointed to the Supreme Court as an Assistant Justice in 1999 and was elevated to the bench full time in 2003.

She was earlier a magistrate, Registrar of the Supreme Court and Registrar of the Court of Appeal and Solicitor-General.

Mrs Justice Simmons has also sat as a Justice of Appeal in the Court of Appeal.

Victoria Pearman, the former Ombudsman of Bermuda (Photograph supplied)

Victoria Pearman, a former Ombudsman, said in a video message that Mrs Justice Simmons had “integrity” and a “passion for justice”.

Ms Pearman told Mrs Justice Simmons: “You exemplify judicial excellence. You are a master communicator, able to explain decisions so the most erudite and the barely literate can understand you.

“You know in your heart that all are equal before the law.”

Ms Pearman added that she had appeared before Mrs Justice Simmons in Magistrates’ Court for speeding just a day after she was Called to the Bar.

Ms Pearman said her spell in the dock caused much amusement among people in the courtroom.

She told Mrs Justice Simmons: “You made sure that I knew that was not the way to commence one’s legal career.”

The contribution to Mrs Justice Simmons’ career by her late husband, Adebola Olufemi Bada, who died in December, was also highlighted.

Mrs Justice Simmons told the court: “He believed in me beyond my own imagination.

“He always told me that I did not take compliments regarding work that I did graciously.”

“He was my hero. I used to tell him that he was far more intelligent than me, but that I would always be right.”

She told the court that she had been given many gifts to mark her retirement.

But she said that the greatest gift of all was “the gift of seeing myself as you have seen me and for that I shall be eternally grateful”.

Mrs Justice Simmons has served on several government boards and other bodies.

She has been chairwoman of the legal aid committee, the Bermuda representative of the Caribbean Association of Judicial Officers and chairwoman of a round table on domestic violence.

Mrs Justice Simmons also contributed to anti-money-laundering work through her participation in the Caribbean Financial Action Task Force assessment of Bermuda.

She also stood in as Chief Justice several times.

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Published April 08, 2022 at 7:57 am (Updated April 08, 2022 at 12:16 pm)

Top judge steps down after three decades in Supreme Court

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