Owning a law school

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LAST Friday, we reported that The Council of Legal Education (CLE) has requested certain information before it can approve the establishment of a law school here.

This announcement, notwithstanding the anxiety among many, is more optimistic than what was being said earlier by that regional body, that Guyana did not get permission to open its own law school.

Earlier this year as well, the Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean (IMPACT Justice) in its final report following a survey of legal education in CARICOM member states, recommended among other things, that law schools be established in Guyana, and two other Caribbean states.

“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, principally, but not exclusively, for the non-UWI LLB degree graduates, whose degrees are deemed by the council to meet the equivalency standard of the UWI LLB degree,” the report stated.

Additionally, the recommendations which stem from a survey conducted in Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago, said the opening of additional law schools under the aegis of the CLE as is presently constituted will not solve the problems facing law students across the Region.
According to the document, the establishment of additional regional law schools in the three jurisdictions under the CLE would provide an early mechanism for addressing the unsatisfied demand for access to practise law by the many persons who are holders of non-University of the West Indies (UWI) LLB degrees.

President David Granger, while acknowledging the contributions of the CLE to the development of jurisprudence in the Caribbean, told the council on Friday that it should seek new ways of improving access to and delivery of affordable legal education.
His call, coupled with the recommendation of the Canada-funded study, must not be ignored by the CLE, which many believe needs to move with greater alacrity on this issue. The Guyanese leader also urged the CLE to embrace new technologies to improve access to 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.

The Guyana Govermment has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the University College of the Caribbean and Law College of the Americas in a public-private partnership to establish a law school. This partnership will see the government owning a 30 per cent share and providing only the land to build the school (University of Guyana Turkeyen campus), while the private interest will cover all the costs and hold the remaining 70 per cent.
The proposed Joseph Oscar Fitzclarence (J.O.F) Haynes school — named in honour of one of Guyana’s most famed and respected legal minds who served as Chancellor of the Judiciary — is welcomed by most Guyanese.

Though Guyana does not possess the largest population in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), it plays a major role in establishing institutions in the body. One such institution is the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), which is expected to make decisions, guided by international laws and precedents and influenced by the Region’s cultural development.

In speaking about the necessity for the school, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, presented some of what may have influenced the government’s decision. This includes what is said to be more than 1000 graduates of the Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree from the University of Guyana, who are still unable to pursue the Legal Education Certificate. Upon successful completion of this certificate, one can practise in the courts.

The issue of the quota system at the Hugh Wooding Law School where Guyana continues to churn out more LLB graduates than what is allotted, continues to adversely impact our graduates. Apparently, there has not been much success in arriving at an arrangement of mutual satisfaction on this issue.

In the meantime, the benefit that can be derived from the J.O.F Haynes Law School is that of preparing an increasing number of minds to help the society in pursuing a democratic path.  While all may not practise in the courts, they can provide other critical services. Some of these services include serving as researchers to prepare cases, refining arguments, and challenging opinions in influencing decisions that could bring about progressive changes for society.

On the other hand, there is a school of thought that there are too many lawyers relative to population size. With the many violations of laws and transgressing of citizens’ rights, the more trained in law and are prepared to fearlessly stand up in defence of it, such practice would bring about greater understanding and awareness among the wider society, including within the police force that has responsibility to serve and protect.

In the workplace, relationships between employer and employees have become more complex and require greater understanding and application of laws, conventions, charters and agreements. Navigating these can be problematic, particularly where ignorance exists. Institutions such as trade unions may require their leadership to be more au fait with the nuances of the law in aiding proper representation of their members.

Thus,the issue of having more lawyers is not only about representation in a court, but seeking to protect citizens’ rights, be it at home, in the workplace, or on the streets.
When established, the J.O.F Haynes Law School will be the fourth within CARICOM, and brings with it certain advantages. At the market level, Guyana will afford students comparatively lower tuition fees;housing and maintenance also will be lower relative to the other three countries where schools are.  These factors will give Guyana a competitive advantage in attracting students even from outside of the Caribbean, who will wish to qualify to practise in the Region.

Though all of the above and more will percolate minds, by ordinary folk and within the corridors of influence and power, the school is being established and we can only hope that it will be realised soon.

As a people, domestic and regional, expectations will be held that the intellectual growth and development of the society can be fulfilled likewise, as our needed relationship within CARICOM and the member states.