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Aspiring attorney loses Law Schools’ challenge at Caribbean Court of Justice

Port of Spain, Trinidad. The legal challenge alleging that the Law Schools’ admissions process discriminates against holders of non-University of the West Indies (UWI) law degrees was dismissed Friday afternoon in a judgment delivered at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

In July 2018, Mr. Jason Jones filed an application for special leave against the Council of Legal Education (CLE), the Council for Social and Human Development (COHSOD), and the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED). The Council of Legal Education was established in 1971 by the Agreement Establishing the Council of Legal Education and operates three law schools in the region, the Norman Manley Law School, the Hugh Wooding Law School and the Eugene Dupuch Law School. These law schools award a Legal Education Certificate (LEC) and the Agreement provides that no person can be admitted in the signatory countries to practice as an Attorney-at-Law who does not hold the LEC.

Mr. Jones, a national of Trinidad and Tobago, holds a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of London, a Master of Laws in Oil and Gas Law, and a Graduate Diploma in Law. In 2015 and 2016 he, sat the law schools’ entrance examinations but was unsuccessful on both attempts. He paid the requisite fees for the examination in 2017 but did not sit the exam as he stated that he as he was “too disenchanted and discouraged with the entire process”.

Mr. Jones contended that the proposed defendants have infringed, and continue to infringe, his rights and benefits under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas which speaks to the free movement of skilled nationals and acceptance of qualification among member states, because, without a Legal Education Certificate, he is not entitled to practice law in the region. His application alleged that the automatic acceptance of persons graduating with law degrees from The University of the West Indies into the law schools, and the requirement for the holders of “non-UWI” law degrees to sit an entrance exam to gain entrance, was a breach of the Treaty as holders of degrees from other universities must vie for a very limited number of places which become available only after the automatic admission of UWI graduates.

On 9th August 2018, the Caribbean Community (the Community) filed an application contending that the CCJ could not hear a claim against the Council of Legal Education, that COHSOD and COTED could not be sued as they do not have legal identities and that Mr. Jones’ application was “manifestly ill-founded” and therefore inadmissible. On 13th September 2018, the Council of Legal Education also filed an application, making similar objections to the CCJ’s jurisdiction over the Council.

Mr. Emir Crowne, counsel for Mr. Jones, accepted that COHSOD and COTED could not be a party to the application because they had no legal identity and sought to have them substituted by the Community. The CCJ considered whether to allow the application to continue against the Community. However, the Court concluded that “none of the Treaty provisions that Mr. Jones has referred to (Articles 35, 36, 37 and 46) show even a glimmer of such a violation. Moreover, the one form of discrimination that is prohibited and targeted by the Treaty is discrimination on grounds of nationality.”

The CCJ considered the objection raised that the Court had no jurisdiction over the CLE. It noted that the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas, which was made in 2001, after the Agreement establishing the Council, makes no mention of the CLE or the Agreement. Furthermore, the Court noted that the CLE was not a principal organ of the Community and that it did not even enjoy the status of an institution or associated institution of the Community and as such proceedings could not be commenced against the CLE as an institution of Community.

In view of these considerations, the Court dismissed the present application for special leave but left it open for the applicant to decide whether, and how, to seek the redress he claims.