The Council of Legal Education (CLE) in the Caribbean celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Prior to its establishment, would-be lawyers had to journey to the United Kingdom, in the bitter cold and at great expense, to pursue studies in one of the Inns of Court (Middle Temple and Gray’s Inn are two of the well-known ones), but that costly and inconvenient exercise ceased, thus paving the way for hundreds, if not thousands, to read law in the region; and, no doubt, that is the reason why the region is flooded with lawyers.
In the Caribbean law programme, there are no dinners, as required by the English training/tradition. Only Caribbean-trained lawyers are allowed to practise in the region, but lawyers who qualified outside the Caribbean are allowed to practise in the region after successfully completing a six-month training at one of the three law schools. There was, up to the mid-eighties, a cut-off period in which English trained lawyers could be admitted to practise.
The CLE was created by the Agreement signed by the Governments of Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and the Universities of the West Indies (UWI) and Guyana (UG). The agreement was penned based on an agreement made in 1970 by those countries as well as Antigua, Bahamas, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, St Christopher, Nevis/Anguilla, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent.
The Council was established in order to provide training in the Region (rather than in Britain) for lawyers wishing to practise law in the region. Its establishment came a year after that of the UWI Faculty of Law, which has departments on each of the three University campuses. The CLE operates three law schools. The Norman Manley (Jamaica) and the Hugh Wooding (Trinidad and Tobago) were established in 1973, and the Eugene Dupuch was established in 1998 in the Bahamas.
I am proud to say that almost every Judge in the region is a product of the CLE. Most jurisdictions, including those of Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court, has a Caribbean-trained lawyer as Head of the Judiciary.
Sir Tapley Saton, QC, is one of the first graduates of the CLE, and he is now the Governor General of St Kitts & Nevis. Incidentally, he was the first Caribbean-trained Attorney General as well as Queen’s Counsel. Sandra Mason (now Dame Mason) of the first batch is now the Governor General of Barbados. She was elevated to the highest office after her judicial appointments, especially in the Appellate Court. Jamaican Denis Morrison, a retired Court of Appeal Judge, was a Rhode scholar. There were/are a few Prime Ministers, including Dean Barrow of Belize, Kamala Persad-Bissessar of Trinidad and Tobago, and Kenny Anthony of St. Lucia, who graduated from the CLE.
I was in the fifth batch (graduated in 1979 from Hugh Wooding Law School). At that time, UG dealt only with the first year LLB programme, and students had to complete the degree course at Cave Hill in Barbados. Now students can complete the full LLB degree programme at UG.
Guyana’s quota of students to the Law School is 25, but steps are being taken for the intake to be increased. When I started to practise, the English-trained lawyers did not readily accept the Caribbean-trained lawyers. They called us Caricom lawyers. It took some time, but we won their admiration.
The profession was fused in 1980 when all lawyers were called Attorneys at law. Prior, it was Barrister and Solicitor. Today, only a handful of lawyers in Georgetown are English-trained, and they are all Seniors. I refer to Ashton Chase, who is now in his 90s, and Ralph Ramkarran and Eddie Luckhoo, who are in their seventies. Like any other institution, there were/are a few bad apples among the regional graduates – a few were/are engaged in corrupt practise, excessive drinking, gambling, and sexual misconduct. A few were even prosecuted, but all in all, the legal profession remains a noble one. In fact, a few Caribbean-trained lawyers are lay preachers, and spread the word of God.
Guyanese jurist Aubrey Frazer was the first Director who headed the Norman Manley Law School, with Fenton Ramsahoye as Deputy Director, who was Principal of the Hugh Wooding Law School.
The CLE in the Caribbean has been in existence for more than 42 years, and has trained legal practitioners through the three law schools. The Council comprises the Attorneys General, the Judiciary, the practising bar, the Dean of the Faculty of Law at UWI, the principals of the three law schools. It comprises a Board with a Chairman and 12 members. The current Chairman is Trinidad and Tobago’s Senior Counsel Reginald Armour.