With the Council of Legal Education (CLE) set to discuss Guyana’s plans to set up a law school, the Chambers of the Attorney General (AG) yesterday said it had documentary evidence to show that the country did get permission to proceed.
However, none of excerpts that were released, just days before the CLE is to meet, offered definitive proof that Guyana did have permission.
The CLE is responsible for legal education in the Common-wealth Caribbean and without its imprimatur graduates of a local school would not gain accreditation in the region.
Whether Guyana had permission from the CLE could prove politically embarrassing to the government and AG Basil Williams SC. The Attorney General had gone ahead and clinched a Memorandum of Understanding in January last year with two groups for the construction of the school. Nothing has happened since then. Williams has been insisting that Guyana does have permission though his predecessor Anil Nandlall has disputed this.
One of the excerpts released yesterday, purportedly from a meeting in 2002, speaks about the establishment of a task force to work on a law school project in Guyana.
According to a statement from the AG’s Chambers accompanying the excerpts, “documents have surfaced that confirms the Attorney General Basil Williams’s statement that Guyana was granted permission to establish its Law School many years ago.”
Reference was made to the minutes of the 34th and the 36th meetings of the CLE in 2002 and 2005, respectively. An additional document, which is an extract of a verbatim record from the CLE meeting on the 2nd September, 2016, was also referred to.
The 2002 document, with the date and occasion (34th meeting of the CLE) written in what appears to be ink at the top, is headlined “Guyana’s financial obligations”.
The document states that the meeting considered the position of the Government of Guyana with respect to its financial obligations to the Council. “It was noted that the Guyana Government had paid US$600,000 during the last year. The Honourable Attorney General of Guyana, Mr Doodnauth Singh, SC informed the meeting that his government intended to pay the arrears. However a decision had been taken to establish a Law School in Guyana. The Government of Guyana hoped that this school would be operated under the aegis of the Council,” the documents stated. It added that on a motion of the Justice L Wolfe, OJ and H Seunath, SC it was “agreed that a task force should be established to work on this project in collaboration with the Committee set up by the Government of Guyana.”
No other document was provided by the AG’s Chambers on the outcome of the establishment of the task force.
According to the release from the AG’s Chambers, the 2002 minutes clearly shows that “…a motion was passed that a Task Force was set up to work on the Guyana Law School.”
It added that the 2005 minutes confirms that the Cabinet of Guyana had appointed a small Committee to consider where the Law School should be sited.
That document, which is headlined “Council of Legal Education. Minutes of the 36th Meeting of the Council of Legal Education held at Radisson Cable Beach Resort, Nassau, The Bahamas on Friday January 21, 2005,” states that one of the matters arising was the Law School of Guyana.
The document stated that the Chairman of the meeting reported that he was informed that the Cabinet of Guyana had appointed a committee to consider the location of the school and that the Vice Chancellor of the University of Guyana and members of the Law Teaching Department had proposed that “a new facility be constructed on the campus of the University of Guyana.”
The AG’s Chambers statement noted that Williams has repeatedly said this it would have been inconceivable for Guyana to be considering where to construct the Law School if permission was not granted.
The law school matter, the statement further noted, was raised again in the 2016 meeting and again there “was no evidence to support the PPP’s claims that Guyana was not given permission; in fact the 2016 minutes confirm that a determination on the Law School was made since 2005.” Included in the statement was a document said to be an extract of a verbatim record from that meeting in which mention was made of the statements made in 2002 and 2005. However, the conversation in the verbatim record appears to be trying to establish whether there had been any approval for a law school.
Nothing was presented by the Attorney General’s Chambers yesterday to show the outcome of the meeting neither is there any document from the CLE stating conclusively that Guyana was given permission for a law school.
The Attorney General’s Chambers statement also made reference to a comment made by Nandlall on the online Citizen’s Report website in 2016, where he is reported to have said that Guyana was given permission. A part of Nandlall’s comment on the Citizen’s Report website stated, “I know that the permission granted to Guyana twenty years ago is no longer extant and has been long overtaken by other decisions.” That permission would have been around 1996 and this newspaper has since been informed that it was given while the late President Cheddi Jagan held office but was scrapped after Guyana entered into an arrangement which guaranteed the entrance of 25 students per annum into the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad.
“Minister Williams has maintained that the APNU+AFC Government is just doing what the PPP failed to do; following through with a decision made long now. The Attorney General stated that it is truly baffling as to why the PPP failed to expedite this project knowing full well how much our Law students have suffered over the years. More-over Minister Williams has questioned the PPP’s motives in trying to frustrate Government’s efforts to establish the JOF Haynes Law School,” the statement from the AG’s Chambers said.
In a statement issued on December 9th, 2017, the AG’s Chambers implied that the establishment of the law school was in limbo as the CLE was now saying that no permission was ever given to Guyana. Nandlall and now retired Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh were blamed for the turn of events. Both Nandlall and Singh have since distanced themselves from the issue and denied the claims made by Williams. Up until this point, Williams consistently maintained that the project was going ahead as planned.
In January last year, the Guyana Government signed an MoU with the University College of the Caribbean (UCC) and the Law College of the Americas (LAC) for the construction of the local law school to be named the JOF Haynes Law School. The approximately US$75 million investment, it was said, would end years of problems that local students have had entering regional law schools to complete their studies.
Following the AG’s Chambers statement on December 9th, 2017, CLE Chairman Reginald Armour SC said that he was “very concerned” because the state-owned Sunday Chronicle report based on the release contained “a number of very significant inaccuracies.”
He had related to this newspaper on December 11th last year that he wrote to Williams asking for a copy of the press release that the Chronicle had referred to.
Armour stressed that he intended to correct the inaccuracies of the newspaper report but “wanted to see what it is that the Attorney General said… while I consider the terms which I will use to correct the inaccuracies.” Up to when this newspaper spoke to Armour last month, the request had not yet been fulfilled.
The matter will be considered by the CLE over the next few days during meetings which are underway in Barbados. The AG is currently in Barbados and is expected to make representation on the issue.