Guyana’s desire for its own law school dates back to the 1990s, early in the last administration. At that time the proposal was related to monetary issues and the expense involved in sending Guyanese students to be trained at the Hugh Wooding law school in Trinidad. Later, Guyana offered the whole of the academic portion of lawyers’ training locally, whereas previously students had undertaken some of it in Barbados. Consequently there were negotiations with regard to the number of Guyanese students who would be accepted by the Hugh Wooding (or their counterparts in Jamaica and The Bahamas) after graduating in law. These were the schools which were responsible for their vocational training.
That first suggestion did not secure a great deal of traction, but it was raised again after the turn of the millennium and placed before the Council of Legal Education (CLE). As it transpired, the application did not receive acceptance from the CLE, which oversees the training of legal practitioners in the Commonwealth Caribbean. This notwithstanding, the rebuff did not prevent the ever optimistic but hardly unerring current Attorney General for Guyana from asserting that the CLE had in the past given its imprimatur to the local law school proposal. He further subsequently accused a former AG and acting Chancellor for the situation, which they justifiably denied.
A perusal of the records of the CLE for the years 2002-05 by this newspaper, provided clear evidence that there had been no final decision on the issue. In addition, according to our report on Monday last week, the minutes of a CLE meeting in Trinidad in 2017 state clearly that no permission had ever been accorded Guyana to establish a local law school.
Attorney General Basil Williams appeared in no way confounded by the lack of ambiguity in these statements, for early in March this year the University of Guyana, presumably on the strength of his convictions, allocated 10 acres of land to serve as a site for the much anticipated law school. This was after the Attorney General’s Chambers had announced that an agreement had been signed for the establishment of the JOF Haynes Law School in Guyana. The other two signatories to the agreement, the public was told, were the University College of the Caribbean and the Law College of the Americas and the arrangement constituted a public-private partnership. Stabroek News reported in January this year that the last named of the two was not listed as one of the schools offering a course of training at law schools approved by the CLE.
For its part the CLE, as reported by this newspaper last July, required that not just the agreement, but also a business plan and feasibility study would have to be submitted to them, and that these would be considered at a meeting which was held in Georgetown at the end of last week.
As it was, the arrangement did not impress some legal authorities. Dr Lloyd Barnett, Chairman of the Review Committee of the CLE, which produced a report on the law schools in 1996 said, “… 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.”
In our September 3 edition, we published a thought-provoking letter from Mr Michael Theodore, a retired course director at the Hugh Wooding Law School. Among his many other observations was a comment on the Guyana submission, containing a programme, he said, which was “progressive and relevant”, but not in harmony with the Council’s present programme. If one government were given permission to set up its own law school, he wrote, there would be no basis for refusing others a similar request – and others have put forward their proposals.
Mr Theodore conceded the need for urgent reform at CLE, but said that this would not be accomplished by erecting “additional brick and mortar buildings.” In terms of methods of teaching he adverted to distance education, and a reduction in face-to-face interaction in the classroom. It might be noted in this connection that this is happening in tertiary institutions all over the world, with online degrees being offered by reputable universities.
What he put emphasis on towards the end of his letter was the need to redefine legal education in the light of ICT developments and globalization “where service industries … are now the drivers of economic development.” As such, he wrote, we must move away from “Producing litigators and towards a new breed of lawyers whose field of operations is global and not local.” Nowhere in the Caribbean, it might be added, is that comment more relevant than in Guyana, where we stand on the brink of becoming an oil producer of some standing.
With Guyana yet to win approval for its feasibility study from the CLE, one rather suspects that the complex issues surrounding the submission – and others ‒ would require more than a three-day meeting to resolve. In the meantime it would perhaps be helpful if the ever mutable AG would subside into silence where this subject is concerned, and let the CLE do the talking.