Guyana’s proposed Law School faces new hurdle: Legal Education Council Treaty bars private sector role in establishing law schools

Last Updated on Sunday, 9 September 2018, 5:28 by Denis Chabrol

Chairman of the Caribbean Council of Legal Education, Reginald Armour; Guyana’s Attorney General Basil Williams and Guyana’s Chancellor of the Judiciary, Yonnette Cummings-Edwards.

Guyana’s plans to establish a law school have hit a major snag with the Caribbean Council of Legal Education (CLE) saying its treaty does not provide for countries or private entities to build and operate law schools,  a hurdle Attorney General Basil Williams said was raised for the first time at this weekend’s Council meeting.

“At the moment, I don’t see that a joint venture agreement can be presented for approval to Council within the Treaty,” CLE Chairman, Senior Counsel Reginald Armour told reporters when asked whether the council had conducted any due diligence on the University College of the Caribbean (UCC) and the Law College of the Americas (LCA) that in 2017 signed a memorandum of understanding with the Guyana government for establishing the Joseph Haynes Law School.

Williams could not say categorically whether Guyana would be prepared to drop its joint venture partners, instead  preferring to leave that up to the advice of a local sub-committee.

Guyana has already stated that its proposee law school would use the Hugh Wooding Law School’s curriculum and respond to other CLE queries about the feasibility study.

Accusing the CLE of shifting its goalposts from Guyana just being required to submit a feasibility study and deciding on the curriculum to its proposal not being deemed  CLE Treaty-compliant, the Guyana Attorney General suggested that certain countries where law schools are being operated should not be part of the decision-making on his country’s plans to establish a law school. “The contention is that they have a self-interest. They have schools and any new school is competition for them and I think it’s a very salient point that was raised by a member at the meeting,” Williams said.

CLE Chairman, Armour told reporters after the CLE meeting referred to Article 1 (3) (b) Treaty of the Council of Legal Education, saying it makes its “quite clear” that the regional body is to “establish, maintain and equip its law schools”, a provision that does not cater for other parties. “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 that 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,” he said when asked whether the joint venture arrangement is generally accepted by the CLE.

Further questioned on whether the Guyana government proposal should exclude the joint venture partners., Armour suggested that might be acceptable. “I can’t speak for the government but certainly that might fit more squarely into the terms of our Treaty,” he said.

Armour stressed that the CLE could only operate within the Treaty unless Caribbean Community (CARICOM) leaders amend that binding agreement.

He further informed that on the recommendation of the CLE’s sub-committee and the Guyana government’s sub-committee that “more work needs to be done to improve the feasibility study” before it is returned to the Council after further work by the local committee. Hopefully, he said a full position that has been agreed to by both sub-committees would be put to the Council’s Executive Committee in January, 2019.

Attorney General Williams countered, saying the Treaty does not expressly state anything about the involvement of joint ventures. He said the CLE informed him for the first time that even if Guyana builds the law school, the Council would have to “take it over and run it; in other words they will be operating like the owners of it”.

“I was totally unaware of that type of arrangement so the arrangement we contemplate is a PPP (Public-Private Partnership) where the partners obviously are looking for profits but the government of Guyana has the majority ownership in it so it’s a Guyana project, is a Guyana law school but we just have two Jamaican partners,” he said. Insisting that Guyana has not seen any rule in the Treaty that blocks this country from building and running its own law school, he said the Council needed to “adapt to modern times” in contrast to the signatories of the treaty in 1970. “It is as though this thing is being made up as you go along,” he said.

Williams said the future involvement of the UCC and the LCA would have to be discussed with them and the local sub-committee.

That sub-committee includes Justice Duke Pollard, Professor Harold Lutchman, Justice Claudette Singh, the Registrar of the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General and UCC Board member Guyana’s Honorary Consul to Jamaica, Indera Persaud and Courtney Winter of the LCA.

Government has already acquired and surveyed land provided by the University of Guyana and obtained an architectural design for the Joseph Haynes Law School.

A survey report on Legal Education in the Caribbean funded by Canada and executed by the University of the West Indies and the Improved Access to Justice in the Commonwealth Caribbean (IMPACT Justice) project,  has recommended that new law schools be set up as soon as possible” as part of University of Technology in Jamaica, University of Guyana, and Antigua and Barbuda.

The Survey Report recommends that talks be held with the Guyana-based Caribbean Community (CARICOM) headquarters, University of the West Indies or other regional organisations to be the temporary home for CLE as a regulator, licensor and accreditation body