Local law school feasible
-Prof James
Stabroek News
August 11, 2002

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The Head of the University of Guyana's Law Department, Professor Rudy James believes that the proposal to set up a local law school is feasible, but that the difficulty would be getting the Council of Legal Education (CLE) to accept the idea.

Prof James made the comment against the background of the request that the Attorney General, Doodnauth Singh SC, made to the Law Department to develop a proposal for the establishment of a local law school.

President Jagdeo mooted the idea of the establishment of a local law school as a consequence of the review being undertaken of the current CARICOM institutions to determine whether or not the arrangements are still appropriate to the needs of the Community. He said too that it might be in the interest of Guyana to set up its own law school given that Guyana is only allowed a quota of 25 students at the Hugh Wooding Law School under the collaborative tripartite agreement it has with the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the CLE.

A drawback to the proposal is the agreement setting up the CLE to which Guyana is signatory and under which it undertook to substantially subsidise the tuition fees for its nationals enrolled at the law school in Trinidad.

The Guyana government has since indicated to the CLE that it would no longer be paying this subsidy. As a consequence, Guyanese nationals attending the law school from this year will have to pay the almost US$10 000 annual fee for the two-year Legal Education Certificate programme.

Guyana's position on this agreement is yet to be ventilated at the level of the CARICOM Heads.

Prof James told Stabroek News that if the Guyana government intends to set up a local law school then it should negotiate with the CLE so that the graduates of the law school would be able to practise before the courts of the region as well as before the Caribbean Court of Appeal which is expected to be in operation by the second half of next year.

Another step it should take, he said, is to arrange for someone from the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad to be seconded here to organise international seminars on the setting up of a law school and the incorporation of best practices.

Prof James observed that unlike The Bahamas, Guyana has the advantage that there are plans to erect a building at the University of Guyana, which could house the law school.

Again unlike The Bahamas, Prof James says that Guyana has a law department from which it would draw its intake. Stabroek News understands that intake has posed a major difficulty for the law school in the Bahamas where student intake still has not risen above 15.

Commenting on the benefits of a local law school, Prof James said that the fees would be lower than the US$10 000 year at Hugh Wooding. Also he said that the local law school could concentrate on teaching practice skills in advocacy, legal drafting and computer research as obtains in England and Australia, rather than the teaching of substantive law. He said that the teaching of substantive law should be dome at the university and the UG LLB programme would be adjusted to accommodate this.

Another plus, he said would be that a local law school could make possible the offering of a continuing legal education programme where the older lawyers could learn about the new developments in the law and the use of computers in legal research.

In an earlier interview, Prof Aubrey Bishop, who spoke to the Stabroek News because Prof James was on leave, said that UG's LLB had overcome initial skepticism about its quality, as the final year graduates have been performing exceptionally well at UWI's Cave Hill campus where some go to complete their degree, and at Hugh Wooding Law School where graduates of the programme read for the LEC.

The top graduating student this year at Hugh Wooding is Gentle Elias, a graduate of the LLB programme in 2000. Another graduate from the same year, Alicia Elias has just completed the Bachelor of Civil Law, a post-graduate degree, from Oxford University and is proceeding on another scholarship to read Environmental and Natural Resource Law at the University of Houston, Texas.

Prof Bishop said too that there are no longer questions about the quality of the UG teaching in the Law Department and that every effort would be made to attract high quality staff for the law school. He stressed that the department and the university are very zealous about maintaining the standard of education delivered in Guyana.

Commenting on the cost of setting up such a school, Prof James said that there are a number of savings that could be realised as a result of the sharing of some resources with the UG LLB programme. He noted that the two bodies could share facilities such as a Resource Centre and a Library with the addition of "Practice Texts."

He said that the projected revenue from fees and the diversion of the grant which would otherwise go to the LLB programme, to the law school, should more than cover recurrent expenses. Prof James explained that the government grants to the LLB programme were intended to pay UWI for second marking and monitoring its examinations under the collaborative agreement with UWI and the CLE. Prof James says the collaborative agreement has worked well but feels that the condition, which denies non-Guyanese graduates from the LLB programme automatic entry to the Hugh Wooding Law School, somewhat degrades the programme.

Asked about the ability of the society to absorb all the lawyers that would be produced, Prof James conceded that if the idea of a lawyer is restricted to the person with a shingle on Croal Street then there could be a surfeit of lawyers.

However, he says that a law degree could lead to so many other things and that alone would keep it going. Prof Bishop says that the LLB today is what the BA used to be in the old days. He says that law degree enables a person to fit into any administrative organisation.