Make legal education more accessible

President David Granger delivering the keynote address at the opening of the 50th CLE meeting at the Guyana Marriott

…President urges CLE

PRESIDENT David Granger, while acknowledging the contributions of the Council of Legal Education (CLE) to the development of jurisprudence in the Caribbean said the Council should seek new ways of improving the access and delivery of affordable legal education.
The president issued the challenge while delivering the keynote address during the opening of the 50th Meeting of the Council of Legal Education (CLE) here at the Guyana Marriott on Friday.

Attorney-General and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams

The call comes at a time when Guyana is making a strong case for a law school to be established here in response to the financial, educational and social challenges faced by LLB students in pursuing studies at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad and Tobago.

According to President Granger, embracing new technologies is among avenues that can be explored to improve the access and delivery of affordable legal education in the Region, and that the Council should ensure non-discriminatory admissions to regional law schools.

Presently, there are three law schools operating under the treaty that established the CLE, namely: The Hugh Wooding Law School, the Norman Manley Law School, and the Eugene Dupuch Law School.

“Guyana’s need for a greater number of trained legal practitioners cannot be satisfied by the present quotas imposed on our students by regional law schools,” President Granger said. On an annual basis, only 25 Guyanese have automatic access to the law school in Trinidad.

Guyana’s Attorney-General and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams, in his address to the Heads of Judiciaries, Attorneys-General, and Heads of Bar Associations of CARICOM countries, while noting that this is an interesting time for legal education, called on the CLE to step up to the challenge.

“There is a wind of change blowing through the legal profession, and the CLE must rise to meet the demands and challenges that come with such change,” he said, adding:
“We do not know how our world will look in 50 years, but what we do know is that it will be different to what it is now.

“The challenge, then, for legal education is one of helping tomorrow’s lawyers meet the needs of that future.”

According to him, those who crafted the agreement that established the CLE envisioned this change, and as such outlined the role of the Council in facilitating such change.
“The preamble sets out, inter alia, that legal education and training must be suited to the needs of the Caribbean, and in addition to teaching legal skills and techniques also pay due regard to the impact of law as an instrument of orderly social economic change,” he explained.

He said that in the case of Guyana, the country is on the verge of social and economic transformation with the coming of oil and gas; that such development is also taking place at a time when the A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) government is embracing the concept of a “green state with a green economy” in an effort to tackle climate change and its impact.

These developmental changes, Minister Williams posited, would require specialised lawyers in various fields.

“This shift will see the emergence of environmentalist and environmental lawyers,” he said, adding:
“We are also pushing our young people in the areas of STEM, and have been developing and implementing programmes to spark their interest in technology.
“These areas are new for Guyana. Similarly, other emerging sectors and disciplines are sprouting up all over the Caribbean.”

He said it is necessary for legal education in the region to keep up with the evolving times, warning that if it lags behind, the profession’s ability to meet the new demands of society would be hampered.

As is the case in other parts of the region, Minister Williams said there is an increasing number of Guyanese pursuing studies in law.

“Our citizens want to be active participants of and beneficiaries in the development of their country and the region. Their zeal should therefore be encouraged, as emerging sectors and disciplines will result in the birthing of new legal relationships which our legal profession must be able to understand and properly advise,” he said.

However, he said there are many stumbling blocks in the path to acquire legal education. “Every year,” he said, “Guyanese law students are facing an enormous financial burden with fees of TT$98,000. “Our students simply cannot afford this high cost, and therefore are deterred from a legal career.

“As Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, I have received many calls and visits from students who have excelled at the undergraduate level, but because of cost cannot complete their legal education.”

President David Granger, Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo, Attorney-General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams, and CLE Chairman, Reginald Armour with Heads of Judiciaries, Attorneys-General, and Heads of Bar Associations of CARICOM outside the Marriott on Friday (Photos by Delano Williams)

The Government of Guyana, over the past two years, has covered 25 per cent of the cost. He noted, too, that the quota of only 25 Guyanese per academic year is no longer practical, as more Guyanese are pursuing a legal career.

Recommendations 43 and 44 of the Final Report on the Survey of Legal Education in CARICOM States, which was prepared by IMPACT Justice with funding from the Canadian Government, state that new law schools should be set up as soon as possible as part of Utech in Jamaica, UG in Guyana and possibly in Antigua and Barbuda.

The report says, too, that the CLE should assume the role and functions of regulator, licensor and accreditation body of regional law school providers, existing and perspective, following the Kenya and New Zealand models.

According to Minister Williams, consideration and implementation of the recommendations would address equal access to legal education, and entry into the legal profession in the Region.

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and CLE Chairman Reginald Armour also addressed the Council, and among officials present were: Principals of the Hugh Wooding, Norman Manley, and Eugene Dupuch Law Schools and Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo.

This is fifth CLE meeting to be held in Guyana since 1994. Guyana played a pivotal role in the Council’s establishment in 1970, with the Agreement being signed here in Georgetown.
The country is a founding member of the Council, together with CARICOM Member States Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago along with the University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana.