President David Granger: Honourable Moses Nagamootoo, Prime Minister and First Vice President of the Republic of Guyana; Honourable Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards, Chancellor of the Judiciary; Honourable Carl Greenidge, Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs; Honourable Basil Williams, Minister of Legal Affairs and Attorney General; Ministers of the Government; Members of the National Assembly; Attorneys General and Solicitors General of the Caribbean; Chief Justices of the Caribbean; Mr. Reginald Armour, Chairman of the Council of Legal Education; Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Members of the Judiciary; members of the Council of Legal Education; members of staff of the various law schools in the Caribbean, special invited guests, members of the media, friends and colleagues:
Legal education and access to justice
The Constitutions of all of the member states of the Caribbean Community are characterised by a common commitment to the principles of citizens’ equality before the law and respect for their civil, political and socio-economic rights.
Equality before the law and the sanctity of human rights, however, can be guaranteed only if there is access to justice. Legal education is essential to establishing a corps of legal professionals to provide legal services and to facilitate access to justice.
Access to justice
The United Nations, as you know, defines ‘access to justice’ as “the ability of people to seek and obtain a remedy through formal or informal institutions of justice and in conformity with human rights standards.” It is:
– a fundamental and foundational principle of the rule of law; it is central to the democratic character of the state and an integral element of the principle of equality before the law;
– a means of ensuring that citizens’ rights are protected; that the law should guarantee citizens recourse against violations of their rights and property and provide means for the lawful settlement of disputes;
– an instrument for the promotion of just, peaceful and inclusive societies – which is Goal 16 of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals;
– an approach to the elimination of inequalities, lack of protection by the law and, often, the high costs associated with accessing justice; and it is a requirement for access to affordable and timely legal advice and representation and access to the courts; it involves ensuring that legal services will be available and will be within the reach of ordinary citizens.
My country Guyana, more than any other Caribbean country, needs to reduce the impact of the geographical impediments to access to justice. Guyana is the largest Caribbean state and it cannot ignore the spatial dimension of extending the reach of legal services and of expanding access to justice.
Legal aid programmes are being introduced to communities previously underserved by legal services. Legal aid services need to become regionalized. The Support for the Criminal Justice System Programme will soon facilitate the provision of legal aid services to many of our hinterland communities.
Access to the courts is being enhanced with the establishment of new magisterial districts and specialized courts. Two new magisterial districts – the Upper Demerara River Magisterial District Court and the Rupununi Magisterial District Court Office – were commissioned over the past year.
The establishment of these districts removes or reduces the need for residents to travel outside of their home regions to access legal services – and I remind our visitors that our largest region, the Rupununi, is larger than the Republic of Costa Rica and that can give you an idea of the distance that people have to travel to access the courts in the capital town of Lethem. Ladies and gentlemen the judiciary has announced plans to establish municipal and children/youth courts. A family court is functioning and has started to hear cases.
Legal education programmes should aim at producing attorneys, men and women of integrity, intelligence and impartiality. These programmes should inculcate the virtues of public service and the values of social responsibility. Legal education should satisfy the need for qualified and competent legal practitioners to meet the demands of changing societies.
Legal education is needed to ensure an adequate number of legal professionals to:
– provide legal services throughout the state;
– to promote access to justice;
– to populate our legal systems with lawyers, jurists and specialized legal practitioners; and most of all to
– prepare future practitioners to preserve the rule of law.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Council of Legal Education plays an essential role in this regard. The Council’s Mission is:
To facilitate the development of competent legal practitioners for the region who, appreciating their responsibility as members of an honourable profession and recognising the needs of their socio-economic environment, are inspired in the pursuit of excellence, the maintenance of high ethical standards, the promotion of social justice and the strengthening of the rule of law.
The Council’s contributions to the development of Caribbean jurisprudence are undisputed. The Council, however, should seek new ways of improving access to, and the delivery of, affordable legal education to all corners of our Caribbean and as I insist to my colleague Heads of Government, the combined land space of the Caribbean is equivalent to the landscape of Sweden so there’s much work to do for the Council to improve access to all corners of the Caribbean. These should include, if necessary, embracing new technologies which support their objectives. It should ensure also that non-discriminatory admissions to the regional law schools are made available.
Guyana’s need for a greater number of trained legal practitioners cannot be satisfied by the present quotas imposed on our students by regional law schools. Guyana looks forward to the Council of Legal Education to facilitate the education of more specialised legal practitioners in the Caribbean and of course, in Guyana itself.
Ladies and gentlemen, I wish the visiting members of the Executive Committee and the full Council of Legal Education every success in their meetings.