UG law graduates to play second fiddle to UWI’s

– for entry to Hugh Wooding

The Council of Legal Education (CLE) has indicated that UG’s 2014 law graduates’ admittance into Hugh Wooding Law School will depend on how many UWI graduates opt to exercise their right to seek admission, Legal Affairs Minister Anil Nandlall has said.

The message, Nandlall told this newspaper,       was communicated to Caricom Chairman Ralph Gonsalves, Secretary- General Irwin LaRocque, and the Government of Guyana, and is a response to the letter Gonsalves wrote to the CLE several months ago.

Following the CLE’s decision in February to discontinue an agreement to grant the top 25 law graduates of the University of Guyana (UG) automatic enrollment into Hugh Wooding, intervention by the Guyana government saw Gonsalves sending the council a letter in which he requested the reversal of the decision, and a review of the provision of legal education in the Caribbean.

Nandlall explained that Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, Chairman of the CLE, finally responded to the Caricom Chairman in a letter which stated three points. The first, Nandlall explained, was an indication by Samuels-Brown that Hugh Wooding said it must first wait to see how many students from the various law faculties of the University of the West Indies (UWI) opt to exercise their right of automatic entry into Hugh Wooding.

Under the agreement which governs legal education in the Caribbean, students from UWI have priority in relation to enrollment to study at Hugh Wooding. After the number of UWI students who plan to enroll for the 2014/2015 academic year is clear Hugh Wooding will then make a decision on whether it will accept students from Guyana and other law faculties.

This development does not represent a definitive solution of UG’s students, but it represents an improvement. Nandlall also said that Samuels-Brown highlighted that the quota system under which the prior agreement was facilitated has expired, suggesting that the number of students accepted from Guyana, if any, may not be 25 as per the old arrangement.

He said that Samuels-Brown also noted that Guyana’s students also have the opportunity of going to the Eugene Dupuch Law School in The Bahamas. Students would have to pay double the fees required to attend Hugh Wooding.

The CLE Chairman also reportedly requested that Gonsalves receive a delegation from the CLE to discuss matters raised in his letter in-depth. Nandlall said President Donald Ramotar, since hearing of the development, has written to Gonsalves seeking to expedite the proposed meeting. The arrangements, he said, are currently being finalized.

Samuels-Brown was said to have also reminded Gonsalves that the issue of limited space, and overcrowding at Hugh Wooding will persist until there is a commitment by CLE’s party states to expand the law school’s physical capacity, as well as its full-time staff compliment.

These matters, she said, need to be addressed with urgency. In the meantime, Nandlall said he has dispatched a letter to the Head of Department of UG’s law faculty apprising him of the development, and requesting that he convey it to law students.

When Stabroek News spoke to UG students on Thursday, they had not been briefed on the situation since Nandlall spoke to them in March.

While Samuels-Brown’s letter provides a dim glimmer of hope to top students graduating this year, it speaks nothing to the fate of other graduates who might have been looking to get into Hugh Wooding by writing the entrance examination.

Stabroek News understands that students who registered earlier this year to sit the entrance examination are still awaiting their examination packages ahead of the July 2 exam, although calls to Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica, which handles the exam, revealed that packages were shipped about two weeks ago. Registration for these examinations cost US$165 – US150 for the exam itself, and US$15 for registration to Hugh Wooding in Trinidad – and the fee is non-refundable.


Pushed around


One Hugh Wooding hopeful who graduated in prior years, told Stabroek News that she called Norman Manley inquiring about her package, but was “pushed around.” She said that on one occasion the person she spoke with told her that the officer she needed to speak to was not around, and that on another occasion she was told that the relevant person was busy.

She said she also sent emails to Norman Manley inquiring of the status of her application, but the law school has not responded.

Stabroek News is in contact with scores of prospective students who are also awaiting their packages after having registered to sit the entrance exam earlier this year. Several final-year law students are also in the same boat.

Former University of Guyana Student Society (UGSS) President Sherod Duncan is one such student.

In an interview with this paper he said that final-year law students will sit their last final exam on May 27, but are still oblivious on what their prospects are afterward.

“Nobody does an LL.B (Legum Baccalaureus) just to say you have an LL.B, the intention is to become an attorney-at-law,” Duncan noted. He said the students continue to be left in the dark with regard to what the future holds for them.


Alternative plans


First and second-year UG law students are taking note of the state of affairs and are already considering their options. One second-year student, who is a few days from writing her final exam before moving over to her third and final year, says she will transfer to Cave Hill in Barbados to complete the programme if the situation does not improve.

Cave Hill is the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) Barbados campus where the law programme is also offered. UWI also offers its law programme at its Trinidad and Jamaica campuses, and students who acquire their LL.B at these campuses enjoy automatic entry into Hugh Wooding. As such, Guyanese students who begin their studies in Guyana but complete at one of these campuses will also benefit from the automatic entry.

All others must sit an entrance examination after attaining their LL.B, or have an agreement for automatic access under a quota system with the CLE as was the case with Guyana. The purpose of the entrance assessment is to ensure that the level of the degrees attained at non-UWI campuses are comparable to those attained at UWI.

The option of heading to one of UWI campuses in the islands though, is not financially viable to very many students. In fact, the high costs associated with studying law in Barbados was the primary reason Guyana started offering the full three years of the law programme at UG.

As per the previous agreement, students did the first year of the programme in Guyana then went to Barbados to complete their LL.Bs, before moving on to Hugh Wooding to study for their LEC. UG Registrar Vincent Alexander had said that many students’ ability to go off to Barbados were stymied because they lacked the finances.

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