Guyana needs a law school

Dear Editor,

I write out of concern for the state of the legal profession in Guyana and the urgent need for a law school. In the decision of Szechter v Szechter (as cited [1970] 3 All ER) Sir Jocelyn Simon advanced that the operation of the law must be reasonably certain and predictable. The judge cautioned that it is no service to those who live under its rule to introduce uncertainty and capriciousness, even with the ostensibly laudable aim of meeting a hard case.

Such capriciousness and uncertainty is what the decision of the Council of Legal Education (CLE) engineered by its February 6 meeting when it made that critical decision of denying 25 law students from the University of Guyana (UG) automatic entry into the Hugh Wooding Law School. The CLE based this decision on the reality that the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS) is overcrowded and that the number of UWI graduates surpasses the capacity of the school to accommodate them. In fact, the CLE is telling the truth.

Final year and first year lawyers in training back home from the law school have described how crowded the school is. They further said that while the school had been expanded the problem of overcrowding persisted.

Even in the face of such a harsh reality, the council’s decision to breach the expectations of the students-at-law already in the system was most unreasonable. The council members knew the agenda of the meeting long before the decision was made.

But Guyanese law students were still encouraged to register for the HWLS. In fact, registration forms were sent directly to UG. Students took time to complete bank transactions, prepare bank draft cheques and other legal documents to complete the registration process and ensure these reached Tunapuna, Trinidad by January 31. Six days later, the council meet and the decision was made to not give UG students automatic admission.

The decision was then reported in the media and it was at this stage that the law students were made aware of the council’s decision. Then at the Caricom Heads of Government Conference Dr Ralph Gonsalves in his capacity as Chairman issued a call to Chairman of the CLE, Mrs Jacqueline Samuels-Brown, to urge the council to reconsider its decision.

At this point the students-at-law await this decision which may come just a few days before the new academic year commences. This is the capriciousness and uncertainty that is plaguing the future of every student-at-law.

Our expectations of admission whether legitimate or reasonable have been egregiously dashed to the ground. This institution invited applications and then decided six days later not to consider those applications owing to space?

I submit the following ten reasons why a local law school should be established, contrary to pronouncements that such is not feasible at the moment:

1.   Judges desirous of becoming specialized in an area of law can gain access. A law school will facilitate their training and development which will enhance the justice system.

2.   Attorneys desirous of advancing their education at the Masters level will gain access.

3.   Holders of an LLB degree trained in the law but not certified to practise will gain access.

4.   Medical and legal practitioners interested in ethics and the law can strengthen their knowledge of certain ethical issues that can be settled through extensive coordination and research by both medical experts and legal practitioners.

5.   It could produce the region’s first forensic lawyers who will work directly with forensic experts at forensic laboratory such as the Turkeyen facility.

6.   It will provide training for lawyers in Guyana and other parts of South and Central America who are interested in laws that protect Indigenous rights and the forest. Its programmes will reflect the need for forest protection (such as under the LCDs and the need to balance the rights of our Indigenous brothers to the use of their land).

7.   It will attract scholars from around the world based on the programmes offered. If the programme reflect the needs of the nation such as environmental and Indigenous protection, applications will come from countries such as Australia and South Africa with Indigenous populations which continue to preserve their heritage.

8.   It will lift the standards of the University of Guyana and the educational standards of the country.

9.   It will provide ministers, permanent secretaries, members of parliament, etc, the opportunity to pursue additional knowledge in a classroom of mature scholars.

10. It will be financially viable. It will provide for a Legal Education Certificate (LEC) programme and can provide for Master of Laws (LLM) programmes. Two LLM programmes are currently offered by UWI in Barbados. Guyana can expand this horizon and tap into the high demand for placement at law schools in the region. At this moment with the overcrowding in the Mona and St Augustine campuses, Caribbean students will be glad to live and study in a country with a more affordable cost of living.

Yours faithfully,
Kevin Morgan

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