Regional body approves UG law school
-but too late for 2003/2004
September 10, 2003
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Attorney General Doodnauth Singh SC, who represented Guyana at the just concluded meeting of the CLE in Barbados, told Stabroek News yesterday that the establishment of the law school under the aegis of the CLE has been approved. As a result of the CLE imprimatur, graduates of the law school would be able to practice before the Caribbean Court of Justice and any other court in the Community. He added that the school should be set to operate from next year. The government had planned that it should be operational from this month but the negotiations with the CLE, as well as local preparations, did not proceed at the desired pace.
However, Singh said that one of the issues that the CLE team would want to hammer out with the local officials was the need for uniformity of the pay scales at the law school in Guyana with those obtaining at similar institutions in Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica and the Bahamas.
Informed sources have told Stabroek News that this should not be an insurmountable barrier as the pay scales at the law school could be set in relation to those paid at the University of Guyana. They explained that a formula which equated the salary of the principal of the proposed law school to that of the vice-chancellor of the University of Guyana, the senior tutor to that of a professor and the other tutors to that of the senior lecturers, could be adapted to arrive at pay scales that could be sustained.
The government took the decision to establish the law school after it withdrew from the Caricom agreement that set up the CLE, as a result of its decision to discontinue paying the costs for the tuition of Guyanese nationals studying at the Hugh Wooding Law School in Trinidad.
President Jagdeo proposed the establishment of a local law school during his chairmanship last year of the Caricom when he urged a review of the current institutions to determine whether or not the arrangements were still appropriate to the needs of the community. He also said then that it might be in the interest of Guyana to set up its own law school given that Guyana was only allowed a quota of 25 students at the Hugh Wooding Law School under the collaborative tripartite agreement it had with the University of the West Indies (UWI) and the CLE.
A drawback to the proposal, seen then, was 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. This question has been resolved with Guyana making a US$500,000 payment towards its arrears
In an interview with the Stabroek News Professor Rudy James, head of the UG law department, said at the time that one of the advantages for Guyana was that there were plans to erect a building at the UG that could house the law school. Since then a building on Parade Street, Kingston has been identified to house the law school but its renovation is likely to be in the area of $30M. Another advantage that James pointed out is that the school would be able to draw its intake from the UG law department from which around 50 students graduate each year. Stabroek News understands that intake has posed a major difficulty for the law school in the Bahamas where the student intake still has not risen above 15 a year.
Commenting on the benefits of a local law school, 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 done at the university and the UG LLB programme would be adjusted to accommodate this.
Another plus would be that a local law school could offer 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.
Professor Aubrey Bishop to whom the Stabroek News also spoke as the proposals for the law school were being developed, said UG’s LLB had overcome initial skepticism about its quality, as the final year graduates had been performing exceptionally well at UWI’s Cave Hill campus where some went to complete their degree, and at Hugh Wooding Law School where graduates of the programme read for the LEC.
Last year, the top-graduating student at Hugh Wooding was 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.
Bishop said there were 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.
Commenting on the cost of setting up such a school, James said that there was 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 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. 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.
He said that while the collaborative agreement had worked well, the condition, which denied non-Guyanese graduates from the LLB programme automatic entry to the Hugh Wooding Law School, somewhat degraded the programme. The Attorney General raised this issue at the Barbados meeting but the CLE decided that the treaty would have to be changed to allow non-Guyanese graduates of the UG programme to be allowed to take up the places not taken up by Guyanese nationals.
Asked about the ability of the society to absorb all the lawyers that would be produced, James conceded that if the idea of a lawyer was restricted to the person with a shingle on Croal Street then there could be a surfeit of lawyers. However, he said a law degree could lead to so many other things and that alone would keep it going.
Bishop said that the LLB today was what the BA used to be in the old days, as a law degree enabled a person to fit into any administrative organisation.