To date, Guyana does not have approval from the Council of Legal Education (CLE) for the establishment of a law school and this matter will be on the agenda of the regional body when it meets here on September 6th to 8th.
The absence of approval would mean that all of the steps taken so far by Attorney General Basil Williams SC have been done in anticipation of the green light from the CLE which is not a sure thing.
Since he took office in 2015, Williams has been engaged in several verbal exchanges with the CLE over whether it had ever granted approval to Guyana for a law school. However, based on minutes seen by Stabroek News, it was clearly established at the meeting of the CLE in Trinidad and Tobago on September 8-9, 2017 that Guyana had no approval. Despite this, Williams has proceeded with arrangements with Jamaican partners for the establishment of the JOF Haynes Law School (JHLS)
In July of this year, the Attorney General’s Chambers announced that an agreement for the establishment of the JHLS was signed by the Guyana Government and its Jamaica partners in the preceding month and this along with the feasibility study and the business plan would be submitted to the CLE. Based on the minutes of the September 2017 meeting, the CLE had requested a feasibility study of the school as one of the conditions precedent to making a position known on the Guyana law school. It is unclear if the study involving the Jamaican partners mentioned in July of this year would suffice for the CLE.
In a press release issued on Saturday about the upcoming CLE meeting, the Attorney General’s Chambers referred to the feasibility study for the JHLS and said it would be a major focus for the CLE meeting. There was no mention in the press release that CLE has still not yet issued approval for the law school.
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. Williams had then laid blame on former Attorney General Anil Nandlall and former Chancellor Carl Singh who had both denied the claims by Williams
The minutes of the September 2017 meeting seen by Stabroek News contained a lengthy section on the proposed Guyana law school in which several of the attendees made clear to Williams that based on the records of the CLE there had been no green light to Guyana.
A key section of the minutes said that at the urging of some members of the CLE, the Chairman of the meeting, Reginald Armour SC and Williams had further discussions at the meeting and arising out of these talks, it was agreed that “what emerged are the two decisions as recorded, namely the receipt by the Council of a feasibility study from the Government of Guyana to present a proposal to Council to demonstrate the need for a law school and, that both the Government of Guyana and the Council of Legal Education would establish independent committees to attend to this matter. In light of the foregoing, he (Armour) asked whether the Government of Guyana does not intend any more to present the feasibility study.
“The Hon Attorney General Williams SC explained that it was never agreed that the aforementioned feasibility study was meant to be solely for Council, and that they had an MOU with two Jamaican universities with a provision for a feasibility study. He said what was agreed was that the requirements which Council had requested would be encompassed in the feasibility study to be done pursuant to the MOU. He accused the Chairman of issuing (a press release in January 2017 in Jamaica) based on information given to him by a member of the Opposition in Guyana.
“The Chairman asked that it be noted for the record that the media statement which he had issued in Jamaica was not issued as a result of anything said to him by any opposition politician in Guyana, but had to do with communications appearing in the media in Jamaica on the eve of an Executive Committee meeting, taking place in Jamaica, and which had been drawn to his attention by the three Principals of the Law Schools as to the veracity of those communications. This he did to state clearly Council’s historical recorded position after having tried and failed to make contact with the Hon Attorney General Williams S.C.
“The Chairman stated that thereafter, other Attorneys General present at CLE had persuaded him and he had withdrawn the media statement and agreed to continue discussions with AG Williams; arising from those conversations the decision that is recorded in the Abstract of Decisions was made”.
Dr Lloyd Barnett, Jamaican legal luminary, stated at this juncture that the minute, items 95 – 106 could not be interpreted as approval by Council for the establishment of a law school in Guyana. Williams had argued that several statements in CLE minutes attested that Guyana had been given permission for a law school. However, this was rebuffed at the CLE meeting in September. Barnett said from his knowledge of the Agreement establishing the CLE it was clear that the Council has no authority or power to “authorise anyone to establish a law school. The Council is authorised itself to establish and operate law schools in (certain) territories so that what was being proposed by the Attorney General can only be an application to the Council to approve the establishment, by the Council, of a law school. And that would have to be established in the context of the Caribbean approach to legal education.
“… Barnett stated that the idea that two universities can together with a Government agree to establish a law school or to create the mechanism for the establishment of a law school is completely contrary to the system that has been established by the Governments of the Caribbean”.
The minutes of a CLE Review Committee were also adverted to with the intention of showing that Guyana never had approval for a law school.
Liesel Weekes, the Bar Representative of Barbados referred to the following minutes:
“”The Committee agreed that based on a review of the records and discussions with former Chairmen, the record is clear that the Council has not agreed to the establishment of a law school.” and “A review of the records for the period 2002 to 2005 revealed the following: `1. A proposal was presented to the Council by the then Attorney General for Guyana, Mr Doodnauth Singh SC for the establishment of a law school in Guyana under the auspices of Council. `2. Discussions took place up to 2003 between Attorney General for Guyana, Mr Doodnauth Singh and the then Chairman of Council, Justice Dennis Morrison QC, as he then was. This resulted in a committee of the Council visiting Guyana in 2003 when Madame Justice Desiree Bernard was still Chancellor of the Judiciary. The committee comprised Justice Dennis Morrison QC, Chairman of Council; Mr Keith Sobion, Principal, Norman Manley Law School; Justice Annestine Sealey, Principal, Hugh Wooding Law School and Mrs Kathleen Rochford, Registrar, Hugh Wooding Law School. `The committee met with the Prime Minister of Guyana at that time, the Attorney General and the Permanent Secretary, Mr Roger Luncheon. That committee outlined to the Guyanese contingent that the Council, having had the experience of the Eugene Dupuch Law School in The Bahamas fresh in their minds, would need to see a feasibility study which addressed the following: Capital cost, library facilities, staff recruitment plans, quality assurance and equivalency and other infrastructural matters.’ `The subject was again raised in 2005 as recorded in the January 20, 2005 minutes of the EXCO, and the January 21, 2005, minutes of Council. Those minutes reflect that the Chairman had reminded the meeting of the approach by the Government of Guyana to establish a law school. Further, Council was awaiting the submission of the full proposal by the Guyanese Government. Up to that time, at the 2005 meeting of Council, no further information had been received from the Cabinet of the Government of Guyana.’ `The matter was again raised in September 2016, and the decision taken by Council at that time was that any entity that is proposing to set up a law school under the auspices of the Council of Legal Education needs to submit a feasibility study along with a proposal for Council to consider the request.’”
Weekes said from the foregoing, it was clear that there was no final decision on the issue, and suggested that the minutes cited be made available to Williams. It was agreed that those minutes and the records of Council from September 6, 2002 to 2005 would be made available to Williams.
Wrangling continued at the meeting on the subject with Williams saying that the question of documentation by a body like the Council was quite questionable; that he had never seen any document from the Council of Legal Education in relation to the matter. He said he relied on his notes of the minutes of the meeting of 2016 when he had enquired about the matter. He said that the then Chairman (Jacqueline Samuels-Brown) had said that they did not have documents going back that could assist but referred to a document which she had which read as follows – “Vice-Chancellor of The University of Guyana and members of law teaching department had proposed that a new facility be constructed on the campus of the University of Guyana. Madame Justice Bernard, as she then was, confirmed that the original plans had been changed from the renovation of an existing building to the construction of a new building. In October, 2004, plans and costings had been sent to the Cabinet and no further information had been received from Cabinet.” Williams said based on that excerpt, the immediate past Chairman had concluded that that suggested that some determination had been made.
Williams added that while in Opposition they were of the impression that permission had been given for the establishment of a School. He went on to say that it appears there was a misapplication or a misinterpretation of that constituent document, but that they were led to believe that permission had been granted. And the question of proposals was just to ensure that operationally the school in Guyana would meet all the requirements of the CLE and it was on that basis that the new Government had been proceeding.
Williams further stated that he had never seen the minutes referred to and suggested that the Council needed to have a database of decisions. Armour stated in response that he would be happy to have a conversation to identify what Williams might need from Council that might assist in articulating the feasibility study. Armour said that he however wished to correct the record and to state that it is incorrect for Williams to say that there are no records of Council on this subject. He stated further that he had asked the Registrar who is Secretary to Council to make those records available and a copy would be given to Williams which would show clearly that no decision had ever been taken for there to be a law school in Guyana.
Armour added that he would be willing to discuss providing the minimum information to enable the Government of Guyana to prepare and to present the feasibility study for a law school in Guyana, after which the Government of Guyana and the Council of Legal Education would have their Committees attend to the matter in full.
Samuels-Brown, the immediate past Chairman then stated that she was clear that there had been discussion and some determination had been made regarding a School in Guyana but she had never concluded that a decision had been arrived at. According to the minutes, she went on to express a concern as to whether the proposed feasibility study should address the need for a School or the capacity to administer a School. She said what needed to be demonstrated was the capacity or facility to deliver the programme at the standard that the Council requires, and also to provide the financing to make the School viable on a long-term basis.