Holders of non-University of West Indies (UWI) law degrees have taken legal action against several regional bodies under the Caribbean Community (Caricom) over their non-acceptance into regional law schools, a decades-old problem.
The litigation was filed by President and Co-founder of the Association of Caribbean Students for Equal Access to the Legal Profession (ACSEAL), Jason Jones, at the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) against the Council for Legal Education (CLE); the Council for Human and Social Development (COHSOD) and the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).
Jones is contending, in what was described as a “significant and historic move for justice”, that his right, as a national of Trinidad and Tobago, to access vocational training in the Region in order to become an Attorney-at-Law, eligible to practise within Caricom Member States was infringed upon with his non-acceptance to pursue legal studies at regional institutions such as the Hugh Wooding Law school (HWLS).
He pointed out that by agreement made among Caricom Member States, pursuant to the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (RTC) and further, the Treaty establishing the Council for Legal Education, any Caricom national can become an Attorney-at-Law eligible to practise in any member state, after having first obtained a University of the West Indies or an equivalent undergraduate law degree and then completed vocational training at one of the regional law schools such as the HWLS.
“However, since 1996, holders of non-UWI law degrees have consistently been denied equal access to the regional law schools on the basis of an entrance examination fraught with discriminatory practices that seemingly contradict Caricom’s integration principles such as the acceptance of evidence of qualifications and movement of skilled Community nationals. Furthermore, all holders of UWI law degrees are granted automatic exclusive entry to the regional law schools, regardless of their degree classification,” Jones outlined.
These actions, he posited, are contrary to the rights and/or benefits which are intended to be conferred upon Caricom nationals as provided for in the RTC, especially under Articles 35, 36, 37 and 46, effectively restricting participation in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
This decision to litigate was not taken lightly. In fact, it was explained that ACSEAL was established by Jones in March 2016 after he, along with hundreds of other non-UWI law graduates, was denied entry to the HWLS in 2015.
Additionally, ACSEAL’s National Representatives endeavoured to engage with the Caricom Heads of Government and the Council for Legal Education through the Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque.
The matter is being ably pursued by Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle of New City Chambers, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, Attorneys-at-Law, on behalf of the applicant, Jones.
In April, ACSEAL released a report it complied highlighting the need for a law school in Guyana. According to the body, its support for the law school in Guyana comes from a study, which was conducted to consider the “status and relevance of the current legal education system; the extent to which it meets the needs of the respective Commonwealth Caribbean societies; and concerns of discrimination in access to legal education and, by extension, the legal profession.”
ACSEAL also noted that the initiative of the law school, along with the other suggestions it made in its report, are intended solely to improve justice for the citizens in the Region.
Some of the noteworthy findings and recommendations of the report include: the establishment of the UTech Law School in Jamaica, as well as law schools in Guyana and Antigua; the abolition of the preference-based admission policy at the regional law schools, which presently grants automatic entry exclusively to UWI law graduates.
“[This was in] recognition of students’ concerns of the lack of transparency and accountability in the Council of Legal Education (CLE) Annual Entrance Examination; [also recommended were] the abolition of the CLE Entrance Examination in its current form; and the reconstitution and reorganisation of the CLE,” the body had said.