President calls on CLE to find ways of improving the delivery of affordable legal education

Ministry of the Presidency, Press Release – Georgetown, Guyana (September 7, 2018)

President David Granger, this morning, called on the Council of Legal Education (CLE) to find new ways to improve the delivery of affordable legal education across the Region.  The Head-of-State was at the time addressing the Caribbean’s legal fraternity at the 50th Meeting of the Council of Legal Education held at the Marriott Hotel, Kingston, Georgetown.

“Guyana’s need for a greater number of trained legal practitioners cannot be satisfied by the present quotas imposed on our students by regional law schools.  Guyana looks towards the Council of Legal Education to facilitate the education of more specialised legal practitioners in the Caribbean,” President Granger said.

Guyana is in the process of establishing its own law school to meet the demands not only of Guyanese law students but that of the Region.  The school, which will be named the Joseph Oscar Fitzclarence Haynes (J.O.F) Law School, will be located at the University of Guyana (UG).

Meanwhile, President Granger noted that the Council’s contributions to the development of Caribbean jurisprudence are undisputed while pointing to the Council’s Mission in providing legal education across the Region.

“Legal education programmes should aim at producing attorneys of integrity, intelligence and impartiality. These programmes should inculcate the virtues of public service and the values of social responsibility. Legal education should satisfy the need for qualified and competent legal practitioners to meet the demands of changing societies,” the President said.

He reminded the gathering that legal education is needed to ensure an adequate number of legal professionals can provide legal services throughout the State, promote access to justice, populate the legal systems with lawyers, jurists and specialised legal practitioners as well as preparing future practitioners to preserve the rule of law.

The Constitutions of all of the Member States of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are characterised by a common commitment to the principles of citizens’ equality before the law and respect for their civil, political and socio-economic rights.

President Granger said that “Equality before the law and the sanctity of human rights, however, can be guaranteed only if there is access to justice. Legal education is essential to establishing a corps of legal professionals to provide legal services and to facilitate access to justice.”

Additionally, the President stressed the need for there to be access to justice across the Region while noting that in Guyana more specifically than any other Caribbean country, there is a need to reduce the impact of geographical impediments to access justice.

“Guyana is the largest State in the Caribbean Community and cannot ignore the spatial dimension of extending the reach of legal services and of expanding access to justice,” the President said, adding that legal aid programmes have been introduced to communities that were previously underserved by legal services.

“Legal aid services will become regionalised,” the Head of State said, noting that the Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme will soon facilitate the provision of legal aid services to some hinterland communities.”

Moreover, the President noted that access to the courts here is being enhanced with the establishment of new magisterial districts and specialised courts.  The Upper Demerara River Magisterial District Court and the Rupununi Magisterial District Court Office were commissioned over the past year.

“The establishment of these districts removes or reduces the need for residents to travel outside of their home regions to access legal services.  The judiciary has announced plans to establish municipal and children/youth courts. A family court is functioning and started to hear cases on May 6, 2016,” the President Granger said.

Meanwhile, Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Mr. Basil Williams, S.C., in his opening remarks, said that the Council of Legal Education has a critical role to play in the delivery of quality legal education to law students.  He reminded that Guyana played a pivotal role in the establishment of the Council as the agreement establishing the Council was signed in Georgetown. Guyana is also a founding member of the Council together with CARICOM Member States, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago along with the University of the West Indies and the University of Guyana.

It is the responsibility of the Council as set out in the Agreement, to provide practical professional training of persons seeking to become members of the legal profession as well as to establish, equip and maintain law schools in Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and any other territories the Council so determines for the purpose of post-graduate training. “The CLE therefore has a significant role in providing postgraduate legal training and education for the lawyers who will shape the legal areas critical to Guyana’s future. As Attorney General I am very concerned about the state of legal education in Guyana,” he said, noting that “this is an interesting time for legal education”.

The Attorney General added: “There is a wind of change blowing through the legal profession and the CLE must rise to meet the demands and challenges that come with such change…The challenge then for legal education is one of helping tomorrow’s lawyers meet the needs of that future.” He also noted that Guyana is on the cusp of social and economic transformation with its developing oil and gas sector.  He pointed too to the ‘green’ state initiative, which will see the need for environmentalists and environment lawyers.

Similarly, other emerging sectors and disciplines are sprouting up all over the Caribbean, the Attorney General said.  “Considering these new changes, it is imperative that legal education keep pace with the evolving times. If not, the profession’s ability to meet the new demands of society will be hampered.  It is these changes that have stirred up the strong desire in our young people to become a part of the legal profession,” he said.

The Attorney General alluded to the ability to access legal education becoming a challenge. He noted that every year Guyanese law students face “enormous financial burden with fees of TT$98,000”.

“Our students simply cannot afford this high cost and therefore are deterred from a legal career…To help with the financial difficulties the Government of Guyana for the past two years have covered 25 per cent of the cost. However, the remainder is still a hurdle for many to jump over.  Further, the quota of only 25 Guyanese is no longer practical as more Guyanese are pursuing a legal career. These factors affect Guyanese accessing legal education,” the Attorney General said. As such, he alluded to Recommendations 43-44 of the Final Report on Survey of Legal Education in CARICOM States (February 2018) for consideration by the CLE. The Survey and Final Report was prepared by IMPACT Justice with funding from the Government of Canada.

Recommendations 43-44 of the Final Report states that new law schools should be set up as soon as possible as part of the University of Technology (UTech) in Jamaica, UG in Guyana and possibly in Antigua and Barbuda, principally, but not exclusively, for the non-UWI Bachelor of Laws (LL. B) degree graduates whose degrees are deemed by the Council to meet the equivalency standard of the UWI LL.B. degree.  Recommendation 44 states that as soon as possible, the CLE should commence planning to assume the role and functions of regulator, licensor and accreditation body of regional law school providers, existing and perspective, following the Kenya and New Zealand models.

The Attorney General believes that consideration and implementation of the said recommendations would address equal access to legal education and entry into the legal profession in the Region.

Similarly, Chancellor of the Judiciary, Mrs. Yonette Cummings-Edwards, in noting the challenges that face the CLE, made it clear that “the quality of legal education must not be diminished or diluted”.  She urged the Council to cater to the needs of the people of the Caribbean Bloc as envisaged in 1970; this she said must remain sacrosanct.

Prime Minister, Mr. Moses Nagamootoo, Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Carl Greenidge, Minister within the Ministry of Public Health, Dr. Karen Cummings, Minister of Social Cohesion Dr.  George Norton and Minister of Public Affairs, Ms. Dawn Hastings also attended the meeting.

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