Attorney general claims shifting of goalpost

Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams

– as CLE requests more information on law school
– says establishing treaty does not cater for joint ventures

DELIBERATIONS on the establishment of the proposed JOF Haynes Law School here took a drastic turn on Saturday when the Council of Legal Education (CLE) informed Guyana that the treaty, under which the CLE was established, does not cater for joint ventures.

Chairman of the Council of Legal Education Reginald Armour

The Guyana Government has proposed to build a Law School here through a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with the Law School of the Americas (LCA) and the University College of the Caribbean (UCC) but Chairman of the Council of Legal Education, Reginald Armour said such a model is not likely to receive the approval of the Council.

“At the moment, I don’t see that a joint venture agreement can be presented for approval to Council within the treaty,” Armour told reporters, after more than six hours of deliberation on day two of the 50th Meeting of the CLE at the Guyana Marriott.

He said Article 1, Section 3 (b) of the Treaty establishing the CLE is very clear. That section of the treaty states that Council is mandated “to establish, equip and maintain law schools, one in Jamaica, one in Trinidad and Tobago, and in such other territories as the Council may from time to time determine, for the purpose of providing post-graduate professional legal training.”

Maintaining that the treaty is clear, the CLE Chairman said: “So the concept of other persons forming a law school and bringing them to the Council for approval doesn’t fit within the treaty and that is one of the points we have made to the attorney general, that his government needs to reconsider in terms of the proposal that has been brought to us so far.”

Armour said it is not for the CLE to decide whether Guyana keeps its partners or not but admitted that a proposal by the Government of Guyana alone may likely remove many of the obstacles in the way.

“I can’t speak for the government but certainly that might fit more squarely into the terms of our treaty…. We can only operate within our treaty. We don’t have the liberty to operate outside of our treaty. If the treaty is to say something other than what it says now, that’s for the heads of government to amend,” he told reporters.

The CLE has asked Guyana and its joint venture partners to revise the feasibility study it submitted on July 4, 2018 for the proposed law school. As it is now, the feasibility study is reportedly not in compliance with the treaty that established the CLE, and the Council is awaiting additional information.

“When we receive that (additional information), the sub-committees would then have to meet – our sub-committee and the government’s sub-committee, and we will determine after that in terms of the work that needs to be done,” Armour said.

There is an Executive Committee Meeting of the Council in January 2019 and it is the hope of the CLE Chairman that progress is made by then.

“We have an executive committee meeting in January and we are hoping that we will be able to put a firm submission that has been agreed to in principle by the two sub-committees of the Council and the Government of Guyana to the Executive Committee Meeting in January of 2019,” Armour said.

But the CLE’s interpretation of the treaty on Saturday did not sit well with Guyana’s Attorney General and Legal Affairs Minister, Basil Williams, who has been at the forefront of the drive to establish a law school here.

Shortly after exiting the meeting, the Attorney General told reporters that the goalpost has

An artist’s impression of the proposed JOF Haynes Law School

been shifted. He said prior to the conduct of the feasibility study, Guyana was given five pillars which it was expected to address. Those pillars are: faculty, equipment, remuneration, curriculum, and quality assurance in its quest to establish the school.
Subsequent to the submission of the feasibility study on July 4, 2018, the CLE raised a number of concerns on the study done and requested additional information. At a meeting this past week with a sub-committee of the CLE, Guyana and its partners were asked to provide additional information on the quality assurance and the curriculum, in addition to information on the joint venture.

According to Minister Williams, the issue with the curriculum is very minute, explaining that it is just a matter of adopting the Hugh Wooding Law School’s curriculum. The partners have also agreed to furnish the CLE with the requisite information on the quality assurance.
On the third issue – the joint venture, the Attorney General told reporters that it is a matter of interpretation. He said after outlining the guidelines for the feasibility study, the CLE has now taken issue with the model which the Government of Guyana intends to use to establish its own law school.

Minister Williams said that it was only Saturday, during the meeting, he learnt that if the school is built by Guyana, the CLE would have to assume full control of the facility nonetheless.

“What they were explaining to me is that the law school, even if the Guyana Government builds it, they [CLE] would have to take it over and equip it and everything and run it. In other words, they will be operating like the owners of it.”
“I was totally unaware of that of that type of arrangement. The arrangement we contemplated is a PPP – a Private Public Partnership where the partners obviously are looking for profit but the Government of Guyana has the majority ownership,” the Attorney General explained.

From all indications, he said the goalpost has been shifted.
“We are saying to them, they can’t shift the goal post in terms of Guyana’s position of a feasibility study,” he posited.

While stating that the additional information would be provided to the Council soonest, he admitted that Guyana and its partners, at the level of the sub-committee, would have to return to the drawing board and determine how to move forward given this new development. The committee comprises the Attorney General Basil Williams, Justice Duke Pollard, Justice Claudette Singh, the Solicitor General Kim Kyte, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, Guyanese Honorary Consul Indera Persaud who is a Board Director of the UCC, and LCA Chairman Courtney Wynter.

“We will have to make that decision, the partners would have to discuss that,” the Attorney General said.

But despite the challenges in establishing the law school here, he said the ground work has commenced.

“We have acquired the land at UG. We have a plan for the building and the land has been surveyed and basically we were waiting for the go ahead to start embarking on the construction of the law school, that is how far we have reached,” Minister Williams noted while maintaining that Guyana and its partners have conformed to the five pillars placed on the table by the CLE.

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 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.