The idea of a local law school is one whose time has come

Dear Editor,

I am a proponent of a local law school. At one of the penultimate Caricom meetings of his tenure President of Guyana Dr Bharrat Jagdeo made a profound comment about the institution. Dr Jagdeo said, “Caricom needs to move from identifying problems to solving them.”

I use Dr Jagdeo’s remarks for two reasons:

(1) The Chairman of the Caricom Heads of Government Conference Dr Ralph Gonsalves at the end of their last meeting in St Vincent and the Grenadines instructed the Council of Legal Education (CLE) to undertake an assessment of the delivery of legal education in the region; (2) Dr Jagdeo is credited with mooting the idea of a law school in Guyana in 2002 which led to a task force being set up on the matter. The proposal about a local law school enjoyed both the CLE’s and Cabinet’s blessings at that time.

In 1996 the Review Committee of the Council of Legal Education issued a report, ‘The Barnett Report’; prima facie it’s the culmination of the work a committee established in 1991 and a 1992 Interim Report including a review of subsequent developments leading up to 1996. The thrust of the committee’s work is explained in the report’s Introduction at 1.A.2.: “At the inception the Committee was established because of concern over the number of graduates who were seeking admission to the Law Schools and the limited capacity of the Schools to meet the demand.” This is the present engagement Dr Gonsalves hopes the Council undertakes. (I have discovered no such report before or after in my research but that is not to say such does not exist.)

I will only point out a few of the findings which are instructive for our purposes here; persons desirous of reading the full report can find it at: http://www.clecaribbean.com/barnett.php

Under a section labelled ‘J D Physical And Financial Constraints” on pages 39 and 40 three immediate subsections stand out:

“3.D.1. Initially it appears to have been thought that the Faculty of Law (UWI) would be able to accommodate most persons wishing to study law with a view to practising as lawyers in the Caribbean. The Faculty was so designed that it is unable to take in more than approximately 120 students per annum. Since it was also anticipated that entrants to the Law Schools would predominantly be U.W.I. law graduates, the Law Schools were designed with a similarly low projection for expansion. While the numbers admitted to the Faculty after nearly three decades have only marginally increased, the numbers admitted to the Law Schools have been increasing steadily.

“3.D.2. The probability is that the number of non-U.W.I. graduates who seek admission to the Law Schools will continue to increase for the foreseeable future. The Hugh Wooding Law School was designed and constructed to accommodate 180 students and the Norman Manley Law School to accommodate 105 students. Accordingly, if 120 persons graduate from the U.W.I. each year and seek entry into the Law Schools, the potential population of the Law Schools for 1st and 2nd year students from this source alone is 240 students, leaving only 22 places for admission of other persons in any one year.

“3.D.3. There have been modest extensions to sections of the Hugh Wooding Law School but these were limited to optimising the capacity of the existing structure so as to cope with the existing population and the legal aid facility. There has been no extension to the Norman Manley Law School and any expansion will require extensive structural additions and high capital expenditure. It is not known whether the competing demands on the host Governments will permit them to provide such funds within the foreseeable future. So far no source of funding for this purpose has been identified.

“3.D.4. Since it is clear that any significant increase in the capacity of the Law Schools can only come from the provision of additional capital funds, it is worthy of note that there has been consistent default by Governments in the payment of their contributions to the recurrent expenditure of the Council. The result has been that the Council has routinely fallen into indebtedness to the University which administers its finances. The Council has not been able to build up any capital reserve fund although this is an ideal which should not be overlooked. It is also important to bear in mind that any expansion of the Law Schools to increase the student intake will cause consequential increases in recurrent expenditure, as there would be need to increase personnel, equipment and materials.”

I took liberty to quote the section of the 122-page Barnett Report which took five years to produce and submit here that eighteen years later not much seems to have changed besides the fact that Caricom has been sitting on this document. Statistically speaking another report should be ready by 2019 which will basically regurgitate what we already know, thanks to the reality of current final year law students of the University of Guyana (UG) and the Barnett Report. This brings me to Dr Jagdeo’s remarks, that, “Caricom needs to move from identifying problems and move towards to solving them.”

Six years after the Barnett Report, in 2002, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo set in motion the idea of bringing a local law school to reality in an era when many of the circumstances we see today as regards the delivery of legal education also prevailed. I repose every confidence that his successor President Donald Ramotar will finish this great work.

The more I speak with our UG law students on this matter, the more sixth form law students share their concerns, the more I feel the weight of the generations to follow who will seek a place in this noble profession then the more I am convinced that the idea of a local law school is an idea whose time has come.

 

Yours faithfully,
Sherod Avery Duncan

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