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Wait-and-see approach towards automatic entry of top UG Law grads to Hugh Wooding Law School

Attorney General Anil Nandlall meeting with members of the University of Guyana Law Society.

Uncertainty surrounds the fate of the University of Guyana’s (UG) top 25 law degree graduates being granted automatic entry to the Trinidad-based Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS), with student representatives not entirely assured by Attorney General Anil Nandlall’s cautious optimism that they should benefit from an ad hoc agreement which saw last year’s top graduates accepted.

Nandlall, who is also Legal Affairs Minister, expects that those graduates for 2015 in addition to UG’ss 10 international students will be accepted as was the case in 2014.

These expectations were communicated to the University of Guyana Law Society (UGLS) Committee during a meeting Tuesday at which the Committee, accompanied by several other students, sought to ascertain whether the top 25 University of Guyana law graduates will be automatically accepted into HWLS for the 2015/2016 academic year.

Currently, all non-University of West Indies (UWI) students, as well as UG’s law students who do not make the top 25, are required to sit an extremely competitive entrance examination.

“I do not find the idea of rejecting UG’s students conceivable,” Nandlall said, and when probed by second year Student-at-Law, Rashulata St. Louis, on a possible recurrence of last year’s dilemma the minister said “I do not control the CLE (Council of Legal Education),” but also that “I do not expect them to act unreasonably…they have given me no basis to think that they will, and all things being equal, I expect this arrangement, as ad hoc as it unfortunately is, to continue until this comprehensive examination is concluded.”

The examination Nandlall alluded to is actually a review of the provision of legal education in the region as was requested by former Caricom Community Chairman Ralph Gonsalves following the 25th Inter-Sessional CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in St. Vincent and the Grenadines last March. At that meeting President Donald Ramotar had raised the issue that the CLE, last February, decided on discontinuing the agreement which, for decades, saw UG’s top 25 graduating students enjoy automatic entry in the HWLS. CLE Chairman Jacqueline Samuels-Brown had said that the decision was taken due to space constraints at HWLS.

The issue was discussed by the Heads of Government who resolved that Gonsalves would dispatch a letter to the CLE requesting that UG’s top 25 top students be admitted as per normal and that a comprehensive review of the provision of legal education in the region be undertaken. Nandlall said that such a review will take some time, is likely to be costly, and that an estimate has been submitted to the Heads of Government.

Guyana, he shared, has committed itself to contributing equitably to this initiative. He also shared that the CLE is due to meet on the 5th of February at which time this issue will be discussed further. Third-year Student-at-Law Glenfield Dennison sought from the minister a commitment that UG’s law students will be briefed by him on the outcome of this meeting. The minister has agreed.

Following the meeting UGLS President Patrice Wishart  said “it was informative, however I was looking to be a little more consoled in terms of something concrete in relating to our automatic placement for national and non-nationals. The AG kept using the term ‘it is expected,’ and while this gives some comfort it does not give enough. We await word after February 5th to see what is going on.” Vice President Devin Singh said “I’m happy with what was relayed to us. I think students will be put a little at ease, but I am hopeful that after the 5th of February some more positive feedback will be given to us. Until that time students are still unsure of the automatic placements and that is our number one goal, to give the students the answer they require at this time.” A third-year Student-at-Law, Althea Campbell said “I don’t feel more favorable coming out the meeting than I did went in. The AG basically told us that we have an expectation of being accepted which is more or less an idea or the hope that the students have been nurturing. Nothing new has been told to us and we are just hoping that the agreement comes through.”

Nandlall also shared that he has spoken to the Attorneys General of Trinidad and Tobago, and The Bahamas on supplementary and/or alternative arrangements. In the case of Trinidad he said that the AG has offered to provide a facility located in South Trinidad to bolster physical capacity. This offer, he added, has to be accepted by the CLE. In the case of the Bahamas Nandlall said that an indication has been given that an arrangement can be worked out that can see a reduction of tuition fees, depending on the number of students who indicate a willingness to attend the Eugene Dupoch Law School (EDLS) there. High costs of living and tuition fees 100% than those of Hugh Wooding have made EDLS a very unpopular option. Nandlall said that this particular option is only to be a contingency plan, in case the ongoing agreement falls through. He nevertheless said that nothing precludes him from exploring the option of having EDLS absorb the UG law students who do not make the top 25. He virtually ruled out government subsidising tuition fees at the EDLS, saying that the administration could not only do so for law students. “I am not optimistic that governmemt will find that favourable because we cannot simply give law students a subsidy if we do that then we have to do that right across the board,” he said.

Pursuant to an agreement with the University of West Indies (UWI) UG’s top 25 law graduates have, for about two decades now, been granted automatic entry into the HWLS to pursue their Legal Education Certificates (LEC). The LEC is mandatory if a student wishes to practice in the region. Last February however, the Council or Legal Education (CLE), which oversees the training of legal practitioners in the Commonwealth Caribbean decided to discontinue the agreement.