Time to introduce our own legal education programme
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Dear Editor:
IN discussions with lawyers, government employees and members of the public, I observed some uninformed objections to the establishment of a legal education certificate (L.E.C.) programme in Guyana. Most of the negativity seemed to be based on two sets of factors: lack of currency of knowledge, and protectionism. Some believe that the introduction of such a programme would be contrary to our commitment to the CARICOM Treaty. Others think Guyana already has too many lawyers. Yet, a sizeable number are in favour of such a programme.

As a strong advocate for the L.E.C. programme, which I am confident, would help to keep us along the path of sustainable national development and identity, I offer some light to the opponents of the programme.

Let me begin by stating that I am not totally opposed to protectionism, but those who hold steadfastly should be cognisant of its limitations, especially, when the economic health our people and our national prosperity are at stake. For those who believe we have too many lawyers, let them ponder the situation of the United States which has one lawyer for every 300 people. To come close to the U.S. scenario, Guyana would need to have about 2800 active lawyers. Further, the UWI Chancellor in 2011 stated that the Region does not have too many lawyers.

In like vein, Professor of Law Justice Duke Pollard, emphasised the strong connection between economic development and law and the legal system. In essence, the protectionist view ignores Guyana’s dynamics as an increasingly international business-economics driven, and more importantly, the bourgeoning oil and gas economy in the current global context. These new developments require a new breed of lawyers equipped with the relevant knowledge and skills to function transnationally.

Turning my attention to those who are concerned about Caribbean integration, I would like to remind them that such integration has been at the crossroads from the inception. Despite some positive trends in recent years, it remains a dream, depending on how one perceives it. Strong socio-cultural and some economic cooperation will suffice, but to blend this medley of political economies into a functioning unified whole would be tantamount to mating a sheep and a goat. More importantly, every country has a right to adopt and/or introduce policies and programmes that would benefit its populace. Article 5 of the Council of Legal Education supports this position. The national development objective, therefore, must take priority and trump any conflicting regional policy.

Many would agree, too, that development requires among other elements, radical thinking matched by concomitant radical redesigning of the mechanisms necessary to usher and/or sustain progress. To that end, some countries have forged ahead. In Jamaica, for example, the University of Technology has been offering the LLB degree since January 2009, and currently has an enrolment of over 200 students. The leadership of that institution has also begun plans to offer a juris doctor (JD) programme which is common in the U.S., and has gained momentum in Canada, Australia, New Zealand and continental Europe. The common objective is not only to gain international recognition for their programmes, and by extension, their law graduates, but to prepare them to function effectively in an increasingly globalised world.

Similarly, Trinidad and Tobago has been in the forefront in its concern for the nation’s education. It has more than 3,000 students studying through the University of London International (External) Programme. According to unofficial figures, as many as 40 persons graduate annually with an LLB through this distance programme. In fact, on April 3, 2011, the University of London held a graduation ceremony at the Trinidad Hilton which had more than 100 students in attendance. Further, the government has been facilitating students through the Government’s Assistance for Tuition Expenses Programme. Not unlike Guyanese, many T&T LLB graduates find it difficult to gain places at the Hugh Wooding Law School. However, as an alternative, many go to England to complete a seven to nine-month Legal Practice Course, and upon return, spend six months under supervision at a law office and thereafter, are admitted to practise in T&T. Clearly, this is a commendable initiative, which came under cloud recently.

Taking cognisance of the initiatives of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, it would be wise for Guyana to embark on a similar drive to facilitate and promote our LLB graduates. Currently, one such opportunity or lacuna exists for Guyanese, but unexplored by lawyers, most of whom have never read the Legal Practitioners Act. Meanwhile, the relevant authority has been dragging its feet in permitting foreign common law trained lawyers, including several with a University of Guyana LLB to be admitted to practise under the reciprocity clause of the Act.

It should be noted that we have benefitted from the voluntary exportation of intellect over the last several decades. Legal training would now extend that realm, as our locally trained attorneys would be able to easily enter foreign markets. But first, we need to have a programme that would adequately prepare them for the market place, both local and foreign. Put simply, the current system which puts all emphasis on the L.E.C. at Hugh Wooding is discriminatory and does not fit into Guyana’s long-term national goals.
Further, the Department of Law at the University of Guyana should initiate negotiations with U.S., Canadian and Latin American universities to introduce study abroad semesters which would promote emulsification and diversification of our education and training, and culture. Such programmes would have the added benefit of serving as long-term marketing tools for the University of Guyana, and ultimately the nation. It would bring many foreign students, and with them, foreign currency and cultural diversity.

In essence, we should hasten to establish our own legal education programme, or accept some alternative initiative, as part of our push for sustainable development. Myopic naysayers should seek corrective national, racial and political lenses. A failure to see the global picture would continue to leave many of our LLB skills undeveloped, and they will continue to walk around in ‘no-man’s’ land. At the end of the day, politics and the national economy would suffer. The establishment of our own legal training programme therefore, is imperative.

Regards
Ronald Singh
Barrister & Solicitor; Former Head, Dept. of Law, UG

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