Gov’t, partners to meet CLE today on law school plans

- AG maintains permission was granted

Basil Williams

Ahead of a three-day Council of Legal Education (CLE) meeting that begins on Thursday, the business plan and feasibility study for Guyana’s proposed JOF Haynes Law School (JHLS) will be discussed by the government, its partners and representatives of the body, according to Attorney General (AG) Basil Williams SC, who yesterday maintained that Guyana was previously granted permission to establish its own law school.

Williams insisted during a news conference that things have passed the permission stage and that government has already submitted the documents that the CLE had asked for.

In January, 2017, government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Jamaica-based University College of the Caribbean and the Law College of the Americas for the construction of a 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.

Ten acres of prime land, which is government’s contribution to the project, is located at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen campus. It has already been handed over and surveyed and once Guyana gets the green light for the business plan and feasibility study, construction will begin.

“We were supposed to lay over with the CLE a business plan and feasibility study. That has been done. They have it now and they are supposed to be reviewing it and the joint venture partners –the Jamaicans – they are actually here today and we are going to meet with the CLE tomorrow [today] in relation to that feasibility study and business plan,” Williams said in response to questions on the issue.

Today’s meeting, he later explained, was called to flesh out issues the CLE had raised after examining the documents. The Jamaican partners, members of the local committee and representatives of the CLE subcommittee will be in attendance at the meeting, which will be held at the AG’s Chambers at 10am.

He said that in the agreement establishing the CLE, the body is empowered to establish law schools and in addition to Trinidad, Jamaica was mentioned. “There is provision there for them to establish more law schools if necessary and what is also relevant at this time is that the final report on the legal study—a survey of legal education is out—and they are recommending that Guyana, Antigua and Jamaica should establish law schools,” he said before reminding that while it was recommend that Jamaica get a second school, Guyana has none.

“We would like to establish our law school…We don’t see no reason why we shouldn’t have a law school in Guyana, especially at this time when the whole region would be transformed,” he stressed

Asked what the next move is if the plan and the study are not accepted by the CLE, Williams said that government would raise the matter at the level of CARICOM.

“The CLE… is an organ of the CARICOM Heads of Governments… so, it’s a body within CARICOM. So, the final arbiter would of course be the Heads of Government, if necessary,” he informed before noting that the Heads had also commissioned the legal survey. “We see no real reason why the school shouldn’t be established,” he said.

The AG stressed that at the time when Guyana is on the “cusp” of transformation and riches with the production of oil, “we obviously have to be able to train lawyers in this area. We have to get ownership of the industry and the sector. We have gas also and we also have a Green State strategy dealing with the environment and so these are all new areas that we have to train lawyers. As far as I see it, we have a shortage of lawyers in these two streams.”

He used the opportunity to reiterate the financial hardships that Guyanese law students studying in Trinidad face and said that several of them in the last few weeks have visited his office seeking scholarships to complete the programme. Williams has long said that the 25 places offered to Guyana at the Hugh Wooding Law School is inadequate.

Outdated

The AG said the position that Guyana did not get permission to establish its own school, “as you know, was outdated. It was long overtaken. I think that it is established that some permission would have been given and it is also established that meetings were held.” He even made mention of lawyers who were part of the teams which attended these meetings.

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 over the weekend, it was clearly established at the meeting of the CLE in Trinidad and Tobago, from September 8 to 9, 2017 that Guyana had no approval.

The minutes 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. This was later denied by the Chairman.

“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 minutes and said 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.

Williams, according to the minutes, had pointed out that while in opposition his government was of the impression that permission had been given for the establishment of a 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.

Meanwhile, with regards to the upcoming CLE and the Executive Council (EXCO) meetings, Williams informed reporters that this is the fifth time Guyana will be the host. Though the meeting begins on Thursday, an opening ceremony will be held at the Marriott Hotel at 8:30 am the following day, with President David Granger delivering the feature address.

Expected to participate are heads of the Judiciaries, AGs and Heads of Bar Associations of Caricom Countries along with the Principals of the Hugh Wooding (Trinidad), Norman Manley (Jamaica) and Eugene Dupuch (Bahamas) Law Schools. The meetings will be chaired by Armour.

Matters pertinent to the legal system in Guyana and the region will be on the agenda for discussion, Williams added.

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