Our great son of the Caribbean, Grenada-born economist and former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies Sir Meredith Alister McIntyre said that, “The idea of integration is the most persuasive idea in developmental policy since the Second World War.”
That integration was seriously tested in recent months especially when University of Guyana (UG) students-at-law learnt that they would not be offered places at Hugh Wooding School of Law (HWLS) this year.
A letter from Dr. Ralph Gonsalves, the Chairman of the Conference of Heads of Government of the Caribbean Community to the Chairperson of the Council for Legal Education (CLE) Mrs. Jacqueline Samuels–Brown, SC, read, “It is also of tremendous concern that, in the current scenario, admission to the practice of Law in the CLE member countries is restricted to the graduates of one institution.”
However, we were happy when a few days ago we learnt that UG’s top 25 law students would be allowed automatic placements for 2014. The Government of Guyana no doubt had spared no effort in ensuring the decision of the last few months was reversed and the arrangement of old even saw gains in the additional 10 automatic places being offered to our students of the Caribbean Community who study law with us.
‘Thank You’ Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General Anil Nandlall and our very own Head of the Department of Law at UG Sheldon McDonald; and all the other personnel for the tireless efforts that you all brought to bear on the task.
However, even as we celebrate the moment, and a special moment it is to quell our frustrations and set us on our chosen career course, deep thought must turn to those who will not be able to go to HWLS though holders of a Bachelors of Laws degree from UG this year and over the years because the system put in place to administer legal education in the region instead seeks systematically to restrict access to their institutions even by entry examination requirements, noting also that there has been no mention in this dispensation of the fate of the 2015 and 2016 batch of law students at UG. This is the age of integration but instead “quotas” and “available places” and “space requirement” rule the day.
This is unacceptable. It cannot be business as usual. The Honourable Errol Barrow of Barbados articulated it elegantly in the era of 1953 when our Constitution was suspended and in the words of our late great poet Martin Carter, ‘the shining sun was hidden in the sky and red flowers bent their heads in awful sorrow’.
Prime Minister Barrow said, “No nation, however powerful, can draw up an indictment against an entire people.” I dare say ‘no institution however powerful’ should be allowed to do the same either.
I find myself again in concurrence with the twin island Republic of Trinidad and Tobago whose position is clear that, “The failure of the institutions to anticipate and meet the demand for legal education has seriously prejudiced the legal systems of the Caribbean and has seriously disadvantaged the current generation of young aspiring lawyers.”
Even as UG reconsiders the rate at which its tuition fees is offered and engages in the many changes being embraced in the many quarters of the institution it is more than ample time for a national discussion about the place of our beloved institution in our society and its many academic offerings including legal education.
The distinguished Simeon C. R. McIntosh, Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of the West Indies, Cavehill on the subject of ‘Legal Education and the CCJ’ says that, “We must concern ourselves with the form of intellectual, legal and political culture in which the university might function at its best. And this begins with the postulation of an ideal conception of legal education, a notion of its essential purpose and its distinctive excellence.
“But to conceive of the study of law, not as a form of apprenticeship as in years gone by, but rather as a university discipline, is to locate the university itself at the centre of society and to inquire as to its essential purpose in the life of the nation.
“In other words, following Professor Charles Anderson of the University of Wisconsin, we should begin our query about legal education by thinking broadly about the work of the university as a whole, about what holds it together, about what comprehensible sense of central mission can conceivably integrate its diverse activities and this very quest, it is submitted, is an exercise in practical reason: ‘a matter of being acutely self-conscious about our ideas of the purpose of a human enterprise and about the practices we institute to achieve them’.”
The idea of a local law school is not one, with all the signs of the times, which can be too long resisted. A local law school should never mean we are anti-integration but instead such a school is to better prepare us as citizens of the Caribbean Community.
Until that day when we believe again that our own children have a right like the integration movement to go from potential to performance, and we as a nation retake our rightful place in this process, refusing to delegate the responsibility of our own education; the dreams our children conjure and the hopes we harbour of the greatness of our people will remain but a fleeting illusion to be pursued but never attained.
Sherod Avery Duncan