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Set up local law school or profession can become “elitist”- Basil Williams

Several University of Guyana law students at a symposium on

Even as Caribbean leaders prepare to early next month discuss plans for a review of legal education in the region, Guyana’s Shadow Legal Affairs Minister Basil Williams on Tuesday urged the swift establishment of an accredited local Law School as part of steps to ensure that the profession does not become “elitist”.

“Whatever you do, you have to ensure that the legal profession does not evolve into an elitist one where the ordinary man with brains, where the ordinary child who is very bright but because of the lack of funds for whatever reason could be deprived of an opportunity of becoming a lawyer and serving this nation,” said Williams.

He was contributing to a discussion from the floor at symposium organized by Moot Court Guyana (MCG) in collaboration with the University of Guyana Law Society and the University of Guyana Students’ Society.

Williams said the current administration was obliged to establish a local law school or properly negotiated placements at the Trinidad-based Hugh Wooding Law School, despite reservations that there were too many lawyers.

Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall clarified that he was not opposed to the establishment of a law school in Guyana but insisted that it must be accredited by the Council of Legal Education (CLE). “If I convey the impression that I am excluding the establishment of a law school in Guyana, I am not excluding that. I am saying that we will drive for a law school in Guyana but it must be a Council law school so that not Guyanese alone must come here,” he said.

While Nandlall argued in favour of a regional institution, he did not rule out Guyana taking an “insular” position if going under the CLE failed.  The regional body has long agreed in principle that a law school could be set up here once the standards of the physical and human resources could be on par with the other institutions in the rest of the Caribbean.

The Attorney General said a Barbados-based Canadian-funded organization was expected to fund the review of legal education at a time when there is an increased demand for entry to the three regional law schools by graduates of UG, University of the West Indies (UWI) and other recently established universities in Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica.

Caribbean Community (Caricom) leaders are due to discuss a comprehensive review of legal education in the region at their summit to be held in Antigua from July 2 to 4, 2014.

The review is expected to discuss the high indebtedness to the CLE by all treaty countries except Guyana, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, the relevance of the existing syllabus and whether the Caribbean needs more lawyers.

President of the Guyana Bar Association, Attorney-at-Law, Ronald Burch-Smith said the review would examine whether the CLE should continue to run law schools or become an accreditation body for privately-run law schools, increasing the number of existing law schools, and reducing tuition and other costs. Head of UG’s Department of Law,  Sheldon Mc Donald related that CLE Chairman, Jacqueline Samuels-Brown was in favour of the liberalized provision of legal education. Samuels-Brown, who is in Guyana for the Walter Rodney Commission of Inquiry, did not attend the symposium.

Extensive renewed calls for the establishment of a law school in Guyana have come at a time when there is no permanent mechanism that UG graduates would be allowed to pursue the Certificate in Legal Education so that they could be allowed to practice in a court.  A meeting under the chairmanship of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Prime Minister, Dr. Ralph Gonsalves on June 16, 2014 temporarily overturned a recent decision to only allow UWI Law Degree graduates because of overcrowding at the Hugh Wooding Law School.  That meeting agreed that the top 25 Guyanese and 10 non-Guyanese would gain automatic admission to the law schools in Trinidad, Jamaica, and The Bahamas depending on the zone to which they belong. Guyanese fall within the zone covered by the Hugh Wooding Law School. “The arrangement which we have arrived at… is only for this academic year. The problem resurrects itself next year,” he said, adding that he hoped that there would be a short-term solution during the period of the review.

Attorney-at-Law, Christopher Ram argued in favour of a revised Legal Education Certificate to cater for several areas such as feminist jurisprudence, human rights, public trust, deregulation, ethics, Internet Law, Intellectual Property, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) issues. “In my experience, there is far too little of those values being demonstrated in Guyana where law is seen more as a business than as a profession,” said Ram, who is also a Chartered Accountant.

Attorney-at-Law, Avette Richards emphasized the need for lawyers because investors are generally interested in resolving disputes out of court. She highlighted that a Guyana-based law school would generate revenue from foreign students.