The legal profession in Guyana has been in the news for the past week after President David Granger announced the names of nine persons including a sitting High Court Judge and three women to be members of the inner bar. This is the first time in two decades that the government has decided to award ‘silk’ to lawyers.
There have been letters to the press, social media, and discussions in clubs, bars and the like about the method of appointment and who should or should not have been elevated, whether the appointees were connected to the administration, whether they deserved it, and most importantly, the persons who were not chosen.
In the United States all lawyers are attorneys and have the same status; there is no inner bar, and in 2003 an English Minister, Lord Irvine, tried unsuccessfully to scrap the Queen’s Counsel system in the United Kingdom.
Guyana abolished the term ‘Queen’s Counsel’ and replaced it with Senior Counsel in February 1970, when the country gained Republican status, and since then the elevation process to the inner bar was not too consistent and there were complaints that persons who did not deserve silk were elevated and people who deserved it were side-stepped. However, we should always remember that we do not live in a perfect world.
The Council of Legal Education (CLE) was established in 1971 following an agreement signed by the Governments of Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the University of Guyana (UG). The first Director of the CLE was Guyanese Aubrey Fraser, who was named Principal of the Norman Manley Law School, and Dr Fenton Ramsahoye as his deputy who headed the Hugh Wooding Law School.
The establishment of the law schools in the region attracted hundreds who no longer had to journey thousands of miles to London in the bitter cold to read law, and because of this the Caribbean is now flooded with lawyers ‒ mainly females. I would like to note that in the late 1970s and in the 1980s the English trained lawyers did not recognize Caribbean trained lawyers.
They sniffed at us, calling us Caricom lawyers. Now more than 90% of the senior judges and top lawyers in the region are products of the CLE. Only two of the nine persons named in the last list as SCs were UK trained. I refer to Claudette Singh and Vidyanand ‘Vish’Persaud.
The first West Indian trained lawyer to receive silk was Tapley Seaton of St Kitts/Nevis, and that was in 1988, 28 years ago. Incidentally he was the first Caribbean trained attorney to be an Attorney General. Now Sir Tapley is the Governor General of the twin island state. He is only 66 years of age.
The legal profession was known to be a noble profession, but over the years some lawyers have been receiving a battering and have been accused of ripping off people, betraying clients, acting irresponsibly and becoming the object of suspicion rather giving counsel. Perhaps I should add that the Inns of Court in London have certain ethics whereby lawyers cannot advertise their profession as their counterparts do in the United States. However, a West Indian trained lawyer, Israel Khan of Trinidad and Tobago dared the authorities, and carried an ad in the Trinidad Express in 1980. Efforts to discipline him failed, Khan argued that the CLE does not have a written restriction against advertisement by lawyers. He is now a Senior Counsel and the leading criminal attorney in the twin island republic.