PPP raises questions about law school deal

The opposition PPP today raised a series of questions about a deal signed by the government for the establishment of a law school here.

A release from the PPP follows:

The signing by the Government of Guyana of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with two institutions calling themselves, University College of the Caribbean and the Law College of Americas for the establishment of a local law school begs a number of important questions which have not been addressed by the Government but must be done as soon as possible to bring clarity to this issue.

The provision of a post-LLB education is regionally driven and managed and is governed by law: The Council of Legal Education Act. This is a common piece of legislation enacted in every CARICOM State. In Guyana, it is the Council of Legal Education Act Chapter 4:04 Laws of Guyana. This piece of legislation incorporates an agreement entered into by Caribbean Governments in 1973, establishing the Council of Legal Education of the West Indies. This Council consists of representatives from University of West Indies, the Principals of the law schools of the region, the Attorney General of each State, the Head of the Judiciary of each State and representatives of the legal profession of each State.

It is the Council of Legal Education that run and manage the law schools which are established by the Council. It is that Council that manages the Legal Education Certificate which qualifies a person to practice law in each Member State and the Government of each member State has agreed under this agreement to recognize persons holding such certificates as qualified to practice in the respective territories of the Caribbean. This is the agreement and structure under which post-LLB legal education is administered in the West Indies.

This arrangement is forty-four (44) years old. The Council of Legal Education is an institution within CARICOM. There are three (3) law schools established under this arrangement: the Hugh Wooding Law School, in Trinidad and Tobago, the Norman Manley Law School, in Jamaica and the Eugene Dupuch Law School, in the Bahamas.

By signing this MOU is Guyana not violating its treaty obligations with its Caribbean counterparts? Is Guyana now exiting the Council of Legal Education Agreement? Did anyone address their mind to the implications this insular move will have for Guyana at the Regional level? Is Guyana now violating its own laws – The Council of Legal Education Chapter 4:04 Laws of Guyana? Is the AG even aware of these profound implications? If so, did he fully apprise Cabinet of the same?

Would graduates of this proposed law school be eligible to practice anywhere else in the Caribbean, or the world for that matter? Or will graduates of this proposed law school be only qualified to practice in Guyana? What quality-control scrutiny, or what steps, if any, have been taken to verify and authenticate the academic integrity and standards of these two virtually unknown institutions- the University College of the Caribbean and the Law College of Americas. Speaking for myself, I have never heard of them and I have been educated in the Caribbean and have travelled the length and breadth of the Caribbean. I do not know who in Guyana knows of them. What assurances do we have that their programs, their courses of study and their certification will be recognized even in the Caribbean, worse yet, further afield? To which reputable and known academic institutions or professional bodies are they accredited or, with which they share affiliation? What consultations, if any, were done with the legal profession to solicit their views on this proposed venture? What feasibility studies, if any, were done to determine whether this proposed law school is likely to be a viable venture? How many students in Guyana and the Caribbean will be prepared to attend a law school, being run and managed by two unknown academic institutions and where there is no guarantee that the certification which will issue from this institution would be recognized anywhere? Would this law school replace the option which UG LLB graduates have of 25 automatic entries into Hugh Wooding Law School, or would this be an addition to that facility? Were any Needs-Assessments done to determine whether the Guyanese market can sustain more than 25 Attorneys-at-Law being added to the profession annually?

The aforementioned are only some of the issues that are relevant but none of which have been addressed by the Government. I hope the Government understands that the establishment of a law school, more so, one that is outside of the regional structure is an extraordinarily serious matter. The Government needs to do a tremendous amount of work and certainly must address the issues to which I have alluded before they take a single step forward with this project. This is not a mere photo-opportunity event and one that should fall prey to populist sentiments. This is a matter of great academic importance, which has tremendous economic and financial implications and far-reaching regional integration repercussions.

The Attorney General is a member of the Council of Legal Education and he ought to know that the Council has spent millions of dollars in doing feasibility studies and programmatic work regarding the future of legal education in the region. He should also be aware that the current inadequacies at the existing law schools in the region have already been recognized and that decisions have already been made to establish more law schools in the region and to expand the facilities of the existing law schools.

Under the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) Government, Guyana has long signaled its intention to have a regional law school located here. We urge the Government to pursue this endeavor rather than the one upon which they intend to embark. Is it not more prudent, to have a law school within the existing regional structure that would have the integrity and international recognition which law schools in the Caribbean have, rather than collaborate with some unknown quantity and establish an insular institution which can have far reaching regional implications, and whose certifications no one out of Guyana may recognize and whose future is so uncertain?

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