Guyana joint venture law school a non-starter under CLE Treaty, Chairman says

-AG accuses body of shifting goal posts

Reginald Armour

Given the wording of the Treaty establishing the Council of Legal Education (CLE), a joint venture arrangement for the establishment of a law school in Guyana cannot be presented for approval, Chairman Reginal Armour SC said yesterday, while hinting that government will have to be listed as the only party before the proposal can be properly considered.

“The concept of other persons forming a law school and bringing them to the Council for approval doesn’t fit within the Treaty and that is one of the points we have made to the Attorney General, that his government needs to reconsider in terms of the proposal that has been brought to us so far,” Armour told reporters shortly after the 50th meeting of CLE concluded.

He made direct reference to Article 1(3) (b), which states that one of the functions and powers of the CLE is “to establish, equip and maintain Law Schools, one in Jamaica, one in Trinidad and Tobago and in such other territories as the Council may from time to time determine, for the purpose of providing post graduate professional legal training.”

Basil Williams

Attorney-General (AG) Basil Williams SC subsequently expressed strong disagreement with Armour’s interpretation of that section of the Treaty.

Based on this latest revelation, it appears that the Guyana government has encountered yet another hurdle in its quest to move ahead with the construction of the planned JOF Haynes Law School at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen Campus.

The CLE and AG have been at odds over this issue for over a year, with the former saying that Guyana was never given permission to establish the facility. The CLE has also raised concerns about a feasibility study for the school that was submitted on July 4th and asked that it be “improved” and resubmitted for further consideration.

In January, 2017, the Guyana Government signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the University College of the Caribbean and the Law College of the Americas for the construction of the local law school. It is expected that the approximately US$75 million investment would bring an end to ongoing problems encountered by local students attending regional law schools, including high fees and high cost of living.

When asked if the government will now be required to come with a proposal without partners, Armour responded, “I can’t speak for the government but certainly that might fit more squarely into the terms of our Treaty. We can only operate within our Treaty. We don’t have the liberty to operate outside of our Treaty. If the Treaty is to say something other than what it says now, that is for the Heads of Governments to amend.”

Pressed further, he maintained his position. “At the moment I don’t see that a joint venture agreement can be presented for approval to Council within the Treaty,” he said, before making it clear that he was not going to say whether the government will have to eliminate the partners from the proposal.

When asked for clarity as to whether government has to go it alone, he said “All I can say is that under Article 1(3) (b) of our Treaty, it is the Council of Legal Education that establishes, maintains and equips its law schools.”

Armour noted that for Guyana to get past this hurdle, it can utilise the “good lawyers” that are available. “It’s not for the Council of Legal Education to presume to advise the government of Guyana what they need to do. I think we have emerged from this meeting with clarity and I am looking forward to us finding an agreement to move forward,” he stressed.

‘Shifting goal post’

Williams subsequently told reporters that as far as he is concerned there is no hurdle as what is contained in the Treaty does not mesh with what Armour is saying. “We haven’t seen any rule anywhere saying that and that is what we are saying… It’s as though this thing is being made up as you go along. For the first time we are hearing that. That even if they build it, they have to take it over and run it,” he said before laughing out in amusement.

While noting that the Treaty is subject to interpretation, he pointed out that “It doesn’t expressly tell you anything in relation to that but what they were explaining to me is that the law school, even if Guyana [government] builds it, they will have to take it over and equip it and everything and run it. In other words, they really will be operating like the owners of it. Well I was totally unaware of that …of that type of arrangement. The arrangement we contemplated is a PPP—a private/public partnership—where the partners obviously are looking for profits but the Government of Guyana has the majority ownership in it.”

He stressed that it is a Guyana project and a Guyana-owned law school. “We have the majority of shares. We just have two Jamaican partners but I was totally unaware. We are hearing that for the first time—that they have to take over the law schools, equip and run them,” he insisted.

According to him, the notion that the law school will have to be run by the CLE was conveyed after a meeting last Tuesday.

Asked if government will subject itself to such an arrangement, he said that this will have to be discussed with the partners and the local team, which includes Justice (ret’d) Duke Pollard, Professor Harold Lutchman, Justice (rtd) Claudette Singh, the Registrar of the Supreme Court and the Solicitor-General.

Williams noted that after the meeting on Tuesday, the Jamaican partners had opined that “there is no compelling reason why Guyana shouldn’t have a law school. When they listened to what Mr. Armour and his team members said, their conclusion was that they hadn’t heard anything… or there is no compelling reason why Guyana shouldn’t have a law school.”

Williams said when government embarked on the feasibility study, it was given five pillars by Armour to satisfy but now there is talk about “having a checklist. So we are saying to them, they can’t shift the goal post in terms of Guyana’s position with our feasibility study.” Those five pillars relate to faculty, plant and equipment, renumeration, curriculum and quality assurance, he said. “…I have the five pillars, [which] we spent million on to prepare [a] feasibility [study] and go about our business and you cannot move the goal post at this time for Guyana,” he stressed.

‘Conflict of interest’

Williams added that during the CLE meeting, which began on Thursday and ended yesterday, the issue of whether there was a conflict of interest regarding the CLE members arose.

“It was raised that perhaps these principals may need to recuse themselves from any discussion with any country which is proposing to establish another law school. The contention is that they have a self-interest because they have schools and any new school is competition for them and I think it’s a very salient point that was raised by a member at the meeting,” Williams said. He declined to identify the person who raised it and how it was addressed by the CLE.

He stressed on the fact that Guyana may be at a disadvantage as it is making a case before “people who themselves have law schools to run and there is an obvious conflict of interest.”

According to the Council’s website, its membership consists of the Dean of the Faculty of Law of the University of the West Indies and another member of the faculty nominated by him; the Principals of the Law Schools; the Head of the Judiciary of each participating territory; the Attorney-General of each participating territory; from each of the four participating territories in which there are now two branches of the legal profession, namely Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana, a Barrister and a Solicitor nominated by their appropriate professional bodies, or in the event of the two branches of the profession at any time becoming fused in any such territory two members of the fused profession nominated by their appropriate professional body and from each of the other participating territories one member of the profession nominated by the appropriate professional body.

Williams assured that within a short space of time the Council will get its responses to the concerns raised. The matter will be addressed by the CLE at an executive committee meeting, which will be held in January 2019.

With regards to getting the school up and running, Williams said that Guyana has already acquired the land, which has been surveyed and the plan for the building drawn. “Basically, we are waiting for the go ahead so as to embark upon construction of the school. That’s how far we have reached,” he said.

He used the opportunity to reiterate that there are several thousand Guyanese who only have LLB degrees and cannot get into law school because of the existing quota of 25 students at Trinidad-based Hugh Wooding Law School. According to him, this came up for discussion because Belizean students who study at the University of Guyana are complaining that they cannot get into law schools and that country is now asking for a special arrangement for their students to get into any of the law schools.

The agreement that Guyana has with the CLE will expire next year and thereafter will be renegotiated.

More law schools

Meanwhile, Armour confirmed that during the three-day meeting there were discussions on the proposals for three other law schools; one in Jamaica, one in Barbados and one in Antigua and Barbuda.

“No concrete proposals have been put forward so we were not really able to engage on any of those but they certainly were items raised for our consideration”, he said.

It was recommended in the IMPACT Justice’s final report on the survey of legal education in CARICOM states new law schools “should be set up as soon as possible” in Jamaica, Guyana and possibly Antigua and Barbuda.

Though Barbados was not mentioned in that recommendation, in June this year the principal of the University of the West Indies (UWI) Cave Hill, Professor Eudine Barritea in her pitch for a law school on the island said that it wouldn’t only cater for Barbadians, but those from across the Caribbean and as far as England.

During the three-day meeting 16 agenda items, including the law school, were discussed.

According to Armour, he has emerged from the meeting very encouraged and heartened by the very rich and very deep conversations which have taken place within the past week and particularly on Friday and yesterday. He said also that he has emerged very encouraged by the very cordial and fraternal relationship that exists between Council and the Government of Guyana and, in particular, the Attorney General of Guyana.

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