Although hundreds of hopeful law students write the Council of Legal Education annual Entrance Exam, very few are admitted to Caribbean law schools while UWI Bachelor’s degree in Law (LLB) graduates are automatically accommodated. Jason Jones, co-founder and president of the Association of Caribbean Students For Equal Access to the Legal Profession (ACSEAL), yesterday said this had been an issue for over 20 years and was well know across the region. “ACSEAL is of the view that such a practice is discriminatory, unconstitutional, and a matter of utmost public concern!”
He explained that there were only three law schools in the 16 Caricom member states so non-University of the West Indies (UWI) law graduates were expected to write the exam to be admitted to the Hugh Wooding Law School in TT, the Eugene Dupuch Law School in the Bahamas, and the Norman Manley Law School in Jamaica.
He said because admission was based on the availability of spaces, in 2017, hundreds of students wrote the exam, at a non-refundable cost of US$150, but only seven gained entrance to Hugh Wooding regardless of their degree classification. “UWI students do not have to do this exam. They get automatic entry whether they get a first class, third class, or pass, once you have a UWI degree you get straight in. If you graduate from Oxford, Cambridge, anywhere else, you have to pay for and write this entrance exam.” He said the current preferential system was discriminatory and one current LLB student, Isa Dookie, said it unjustly prejudiced mature candidates and those who did not have the opportunity to attend UWI before entering the world of work.
Jones said in July 2017, the Caricom Secretary General, Irwin LaRocque, responded to questions from ACSEAL and admitted that the admission policy was “discriminatory and ought to be addressed”.
He added that LaRocque invited ACSEAL to participate in a regional consultation hosted by the Impact Justice Project, and the subsequent report, published in February of this year, vindicated its concerns of the entrance exam policy and the lack of transparency. “Basically the report said this policy needs to change so at the upcoming Caricom Heads of Government meeting on July 4 – 6, we are really hoping they are going to address the issue... The next entrance exam on July 4.”
He said transparency was a problem because, although people pay US$150, there were no model answers or examiners reports, they could not query or review the results, and all exams results were not released at the same time. “That creates some questions for the reasonable observer. A lot of students are losing confidence in the system and the way things operate because there is no body of regulations for an exam that fails 99 per cent of the candidates every year.”
Jones told Sunday Newsday they raised the concerns with the Caricom Competition Commission because the monopolisation of legal education would also affect the pricing of and citizen’s access to legal services and advice.
He said Minister in the Office of the Prime Minister, Stuart Young, reached out to ACSEAL in August 2017 to schedule a meeting which had not yet taken place. He was hopeful that the meeting would still happen this year.
In addition, he said the government of Jamaica recently expressed its commitment to engage stakeholders to resolve issues surrounding the entrance to its law school, and the Guyanese government was taking steps to establish a new Law School in Georgetown.
Sunday Newsday e-mailed Hugh Wooding’s admissions office but did not receive a response.