PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad — In a significant and historic move for justice, Jason Jones, president and co-founder of the Association of Caribbean Students for Equal Access to the Legal Profession (ACSEAL) has initiated legal proceedings in 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), for the infringement of his rights, as a citizen of Trinidad and Tobago and a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) national, to access vocational training in the region in order to become an attorney-at-law, eligible to practice within CARICOM member states.
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 practice in any member state, after having first obtained a University of the West Indies (UWI) or an equivalent undergraduate law degree and then completed vocational training at one of the regional law schools, e.g. the Hugh Wooding Law School (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 recognition and 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.
These actions are contrary to the rights/benefits that are intended to be conferred upon CARICOM nationals as provided for in the RTC, namely Articles 35, 36, 37 and 46, effectively restricting participation in the Caribbean Single Market and Economy (CSME).
The decision to litigate was not taken lightly. 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. Over the course of the last year, several attempts were made to schedule a meeting, to no avail, with the minister in the Office of the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, Stuart Young, who initially promised a meeting for August 2017.
Local representatives of ACSEAL struggled to have discussions with law representatives of the UWI Student Guild and the Law Association of Trinidad and Tobago (LATT).
Nevertheless, ACSEAL’s efforts were redoubled regionally through its chapters in Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica and Montserrat, along with alliances in the University of Guyana (UG) and University of Technology (Utech) out of Jamaica.
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 pursued by attorneys-at-law Dr Emir Crowne and Matthew Gayle of New City Chambers, Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, on behalf of the applicant, Jason Jones.
This case is of significant interest to Antigua and Barbuda because there are many Antiguan and Barbudan law students, holding non-UWI law degrees that are desirous of practicing, but are also subjected to the CLE’s alleged discriminatory entry policy.
It is ACSEAL’s view that such an unjustified and unreasonable restriction has had, and if allowed to continue, will have severe implications for the future integrity and quality of the legal profession.
Furthermore, with the Antigua and Barbuda government considering the establishment of a law school in the jurisdiction to serve the sub-region, consideration must be given to obligations and expectations derived from the provisions of the RTC in the establishment of the proposed law school’s entry policy.