The common discussion thread was the establishment of a local law school when Moot Court Guyana convened a stirring symposium venued in the Education Lecture Theatre of the University of Guyana (UG) on Tuesday, which saw the attendance and input of a wide cross-section of local legal minds and even a few from the Caribbean, among others.
An abundance of recommendations and opinions were forthcoming, all of which are expected to help guide the way forward as it relates to the attaining of legal education in Guyana which has recently been gaining some controversial attention.
Moreover, the notion of establishing a local law school was supported by Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General, Anil Nandlall, who at a previous forum had insisted that such an undertaking in Guyana would not be economically feasible. Nandlall, at the symposium on Tuesday, was reminded of his previous utterance in this regard by a young lawyer in training who demanded that the Attorney General outline the “true” position of Government.
According to Nandlall, Government is committed to supporting the establishment of a local law school, providing that it is done under the auspices of the Council of Legal Education (CLE) so that it will be a regional initiative ensuring that “Guyanese alone will not come here.”
“We cannot pursue an agenda that can be regarded or can be construed or in fact be insular. We will work with the process as far as possible (but) if we see that the process doesn’t serve our best interest well then we may be forced to take insular positions, and I am hoping we don’t have to resort to those mechanisms,” said Nandlall.
The CLE was created by an Agreement signed in 1971 by Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the West Indies (UWI) and UG. It was established to provide training in the Region (rather than in Britain) for lawyers wishing to practise in the Region.
The Council currently operates three law schools: the Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica, the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad – both established in 1973 – and the Eugene Dupuch Law School in the Bahamas which was established in 1998.
However, regardless of the direction embraced by Guyana, Nandlall emphasised that it must be one that is in the best interest of the students and by extension the country. As such, he noted that focus must be on guaranteeing a quality of legal education that is relevant, affordable and accessible. And quality legal education, Nandlall noted, must be one that “will make our students understand their roles and functions in society, the social institutional role of the law; the social institutional role of the lawyer to society, to democracy, (and) to the rule of law; the importance of the interconnectivity of all these concepts to the economic and social advancement of our people and our country….The solution that we will pursue here in Guyana must be one that will capture all of those.”
Moreover, he amplified that, like the UG law programme which is recognised across the world, the Legal Education Programme which emanates from the CLE is recognised by the best universities in the world, by every bar in the United States and elsewhere. As such he stressed the need for quality control, pointing out that “education without integrity or a certificate without integrity is not worth the paper it is written on.”
According to the Attorney General, who attended the forum in the capacity of a panellist, “a legal education in my opinion is valuable as a stepping stone to so many other disciplines that one may wish to pursue.”
Review of legal education
And in order to examine the future of legal education in these parts, Nandlall disclosed that a study to review legal education is underway, an undertaking that is expected to be funded by an organisation out of Barbados which is financed through a grant from the Canadian Government. “Funding is always lacking and once you already have a source of funding it will augur well for expediency of the exercise being undertaken,” the Attorney General added.
The review, according to him, is expected to follow on the heels of the Caricom Heads of Government meeting set to commence on July 1 in Antigua, a forum which will address the concerns relating to legal education in the Caribbean.
Understandably, the review will also address this issue even taking into consideration the short and long term future of the graduates of the UG law programme.
Although based on an agreement between UG, UWI and the CLE the top 25 graduates of the local law programme are automatically granted placement at the Hugh Wooding Law School, the placements of the 2013 graduates were however under threat and therefore required intervention from Government. The matter was therefore discussed at a previously convened Caricom Heads of Government meeting after which it was taken up with the CLE. An eventual resolution was derived whereby the stipulated 25 local students of the 2013 programme were granted placements for the upcoming academic year and an additional 10 international students will also be granted placement at law schools within their respective zones.
But according to Nandlall, “I am hoping that while the review is being undertaken we will have a short term solution, I am also expecting at the same time that the review will provide Guyana with a comprehensive solution to its problem.”
He however noted that Guyana is not in the existing dilemma in isolation even as he pointed out that Trinidad and Tobago, which is much more endowed in terms of resources, is faced with a similar challenge in spite of the fact that the Hugh Wooding Law School is located there. “In fact their (Trinidad and Tobago) Government is now completing a building that is earmarked to house a law school either under the aegis of the Council of Legal Education or not, because they have already begun discussions with organisations who administer the legal education certificate in the United Kingdom and to have some arrangement arrived at that would accredit their institution.”
But it was Justice Duke Pollard of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) who queried the possible outcome of the comprehensive review touted by the Attorney General. He, in his contribution to the forum argued, “The CLE itself is the culmination of a comprehensive review of legal education. Where is the CLE now? In total disarray!”
Justice Pollard recalled too that it was a comprehensive review in 1989 that the ‘Sonny’ Ramphal Commission was birthed which, according to him, made a lot of concrete recommendations for a Caribbean Single Market Economy (CSME), a Caricom Competitive Commission and the CCJ. “Where are these institutions today? How successful are they? What confidence has the Region shown in having these institutions? What is the commitment and the loyalty of the state of Caricom to the CCJ and the CSME and to the Caricom Commission?” questioned Justice Pollard as he theorised that they have all had similar outcomes. And given the track record of the aforementioned institutions, he hinted to the possibility that a comprehensive review may not be the ideal way forward to address the future of legal education in Guyana.
And while Attorney-at-Law Teni Housty vocalised his conviction that local law students must be able to take responsibility for themselves first before they source relevant support systems to aid them along, yet another Attorney-at-Law, Basil Williams, insisted that care must be taken to ensure that law does not become an ‘elitist’ profession. He pointed to the need to urgently address “whether we should have a local law school, or should our students be visited every year with this uncertainty; the stress, the anxiety of not knowing whether they are on or not…What will happen is that the law programme will become ‘elitist ’ and I believe the Government, this Government of the day owes its people an obligation to ensure that this doesn’t occur,” warned a very vocal Williams. Among the panellists at Tuesday’s symposium was Senior Lecturer of UG’s Law Programme, Christopher Ram, who recommended to the organisers that the outcome be used to formulate a policy with which students can approach the administration and the Faculty of Law Department.
Also gracing the panellist table was President of the Bar Association, Ronald Burch-Smith, who in his remarks sought to inform the law students in attendance, “You are responsible for your own future not just in terms of what you do in the class room but how you organise yourselves…”
Noticeably absent from the planned panellist contingent were CLE Chairperson, Ms. Jacqueline Samuels-Brown and Chief Justice (Ag), Carl Singh.
The symposium was held in collaboration with the University of Guyana Law Society and the University of Guyana Student Society with support from UG’s Department of Law. The forum was moderated by lecturer within the Faculty of Law, Ms. Christine McGowan.