Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall says the Govern-ment of Guyana (GoG) would be willing to help expand the capacity of the Hugh Wooding Law School as CLE Chairper-son Jacqueline Samuels-Brown says government intervention is key to solving the present space dilemma.
Owing to the lack of space at the Hugh Wooding Law School, the Council of Legal Education (CLE), the body which oversees the provision of legal education in the Caribbean, voted against allowing the top performing 25 law graduates from the Univer-sity of Guyana (UG) automatic entrance into the school, as per prior agreements.
It should be noted that the decision was not limited to Guyana’s students, but all students hailing from non-University of the West Indies (UWI) campuses. Non-UWI students looking to enter Hugh Wooding by writing the entrance examination, as of right now, are also out of luck as the decision blocks entrance via this avenue as well.
Hugh Wooding was built to accommodate 180 students, but now has several hundred more than the limit on roll. Additionally, the school is anticipating an influx of about 300 students for the upcoming 2014/2015 academic year. Intervention by the Government of Guyana saw the issue being put on the agenda of the Caricom Heads of Government meeting held last week.
The CLE is said to meet only twice yearly, and following a meeting in February, Stabroek News understands that the next meeting is slated for September. The semester usually begins in October.
Stabroek News was able to speak to a CLE official, who under the condition of anonymity, told this newspaper that since the issue is the lack of space it can be resolved if space is created. The source explained that the wording of the CLE decision creates an avenue through which such action can be taken. The source acknowledged that the council will not meet again until September, but suggested that action can be made possible by way of “round robin.”
The source continued that space has always been an issue for the school, particularly since 2009 when UWI started offering its law programme in territories it was not offered before. Prior to 2009, law schools across the Caribbean sent their law graduates to the Cave Hill Law School in Barbados, through which, once they passed, they were granted access into Hugh Wooding. UWI however, decided to offer law programmes at its campuses in Jamaica and Trinidad. As a result, the number of students entering UWI’s law programme spiked substantially.
Unfortunately, there has been no commensurate development of Hugh Wooding’s facilities and so the law school is awash with students.
If the prospect alluded to by the source materializes then UG’s top performing 25 law graduates may be able to start studying for their Legal Education Certificate (LEC) in the coming semester.
Such a solution though, would only be temporary. According to Samuels-Brown, whatever options are available to the CLE can only address the matter in a limited way. “What is needed is direct intervention by governments to increase capacity,” she suggests.
Such an endeavour would have to be made by the governments of the countries which make contributions to the CLE.
In an interview with Stabroek News on Sunday, Nandlall indicated that Guyana would be willing to make contributions towards the expansion of Hugh Wooding’s facilities, and opined that this is something all countries in the region should want to participate in.
He suggested that the letter which is to be written by Chairman of Caricom, St Vincent Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves, calling for a reversal of the Council’s recent decision with regards to Guyana’s students, must also require the setting up of a mechanism to review the provision of legal education in the region.
He said that such a review would undoubtedly include an examination of the issue of accommodation at law schools across the region, including Hugh Wooding, and stated that if after the examination it is found that capacity needs to be enhanced then so be it.
He however said that such a decision might pose a problem since many countries are not up to date with regard to the payment of their dues. Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago are among those which are not indebted, he said.
Though Guyana pays its membership dues, the country makes no contribution towards the education of Guyanese students who study at Hugh Wooding. In fact, Guyana is the only member of the council which does not make this particular contribution.
Observers argue that this reality takes away much of Guyana’s clout to, on its own, successfully argue for the reinstatement of the agreement. Trinidad and Tobago, whose UWI students are granted preferential access to Hugh Wooding via the CLE agreement, foots part of the bill for students to study at Hugh Wooding.
In a meeting last week, Nandlall told UG law students that government intends to do all that is within its power to reverse the decision. Though students appreciated the official brief – their first since the news broke earlier this month – none of them felt any better about their prospects after the meeting.