PIONEER AFRICAN WOMEN IN LAW
First Woman Chief Justice
By Donovan Carter
Mathilda Twomey is the first female judge in the history of Seychelles, and the first woman to hold Chief Justice status in the nation. As an academic and legal expert, her contributions to the Seychelles legal structure and government are quite impressive. Born and raised in Mahe, Seychelles, Twomey received quite a global education. After receiving education at Regina Mundi Convent and Seychelles College, Twomey won a scholarship from the British Council to study law in Europe. During this time, Twomey earned both a Diploma in French Law from the University of Paris-Sud, Sceaux in 1985, and a BA in English and French Law in 1986 from the University of Kent at Canterbury. Twomey continued her studies at the Inns of Court School of Law and was called to the Degree of the Utter Bar at Middle Temple, London in 1987.
Returning to her homeland, Twomey would begin practicing law with Ocean Gate Law Centre and later the Attorney General’s Chambers. Twomey’s skills as an attorney would improve tremendously, as she took advantage of learning under Justice Francis MacGreggor, future president of the Court of Appeals. Twomey, along with former Attorney General Pesi Pardiwalla, would open their own law firm in 1992. That same year, Twomey would become a member of the Constitutional Commission, which drafted the Constitution of the Third Republic.
Twomey’s legal career in her homeland is not the extent of her leadership or work. Continuing her pattern of global experience and education, Twomey would go to Ireland in 1995 to work in community and disability law sectors. A year later in 1996, Twomey became Regional Coordinator for the nongovernmental organization Multiple Sclerosis Ireland. Here, Twomey was active and involved in advocacy and policy development for those with disabilities. While in Ireland, Twomey would study at the National University of Ireland Galway (NUIG), earning a Master’s in Public Law in 2011. Twomey’s love of continued education can be further seen in her advice to younger students at her alma mater, NUIG, where she told them to “know that your dreams can be realised....also know that study on its own can be extremely fulfilling and rewarding.” 2011 would continue to be an exciting year, as Twomey was appointed to be a judge on the Court of Appeals in her homeland Seychelles, making her the nation’s first woman to ever serve as a judge. August 18, 2015, Judge Mathilda Twomey’s barrier-breaking continued, as she was sworn in as the Chief Justice of the Seychelles Supreme Court. During her term of five years, Chief Justice Twomey has dealt with many difficult issues presented before her.
Being the first woman to ever hold this position, Twomey naturally came across opposition and fought hard to retain her honor and integrity, despite the misdoings of her colleagues, stating that “I, as chief justice, had to choose whether to ignore unacceptable behaviour from a [fellow] judge...It would have been easier, but it would also have been wrong.” Twomey has been an open critic of the failings of the Court, and how justice has not always been served. Under Chief Twomey’s leadership, the Supreme Court of Seychelles has become more efficient and trustworthy, stating that the Court represents “the rule of law in action”, and that the Court can be fair and impartial, even to their own members. Twomey’s work and leadership have improved relations and confidence between the Court and the people.
Holding to her integrity, Supreme Court Justice Mathilda Twomey decided to step down after a singular 5-year term in 2020. Twomey’s career is best described as courageous, as not everyone can be brave enough to study and travel the world, lead a nation’s judicial system, and hold fast to their integrity. “ It is courageous to find (evidence) against a litigant that you might like or admire. It is courageous to file cases against the government or to represent a monster. It is courageous to write a decision that attracts public censure and it is also courageous to disagree with, or even publicly support, your colleagues.” Former Chief Justice Twomey’s courage has not gone unseen, and her courage will continue to inspire African women to be pioneers as well.