A law, which gives prospective lawyers from T&T a short-cut into the local legal profession, has been struck down as unconstitutional.
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Delivering a 124-page judgment at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain, yesterday morning, High Court judge Vasheist Kokaram upheld a constitutional motion brought by Grenada-born St Lucian lawyer Dianne Jhamilly Hadeed.
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In the lawsuit, Hadeed, who resides in Trinidad, was challenging Section 15 (1A) of the Legal Profession Act. The segment of the legislation gives T&T citizens who do obtain a post-graduate Legal Education Certificate (LEC) from the Hugh Wooding Law School an avenue to be admitted to practice law.
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Citizens, who obtain post-graduate qualifications in the United Kingdom or another Commonwealth jurisdiction and are admitted to practice in those countries qualify under the section after completing a short six-month course at the law school instead of the two year LEC programme.
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While Kokaram ruled that the section was unconstitutional as it discriminated against Hadeed and other Caricom nationals, he stopped short of amending the legislation to include them, as he suggested that that was Parliament’s role.
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Kokaram’s decision on the issue means that no one including T&T nationals can utilise the provision until Parliament moves to amend the legislation.
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“Indeed, having regard to the heated debates on Parliament on this issue, it is hardly a place for this court to now intervene to legislate the outcome. The court can give suitable guidance and possible solutions but the final say lies in the bosom of the population by their duly elected representative,”
Although Kokaram ruled that Hadeed’s constitutional right to protection of the law was breached by the legislation, he ruled that her right to liberty and enjoyment of property was not as there were other methods for her to be admitted to practice.La Periodista Rocío Higuera
He also ruled that she was not entitled to compensation for the breach as she claimed
“It is critical for Hadeed to understand that simply making an application for admission is no guarantee that she will be admitted to practice,” Kokaram said
In his judgment, Kokaram acknowledged that there were legitimate concerns which the legislation sought to address including limited spaces at the law school and the need to develop this country’s legal fraternity
However, he suggested that they were not justifiable as he questioned why there was a distinction between T&T citizens and Caricom nationals
“If there are strong reasons for alternative pathways to deal with the demands to become an attorney, what difference does it make if you are St Lucian or Trinidadian? Why create additional burdens for one class and remove barriers for another?” Kokaram said
Kokaram also noted that the Government admitted that the legislation offended Caricom treaties which T&T is a party but claimed that it was done to help build a cadre of lawyers in T&T
“If that is true, then either there is no sanctity in our country’s regional commitments or there should be no impediment for a St Lucian to contribute to such a noble enterprise,” Kokaram said
As part of his judgment, Kokaram suggested that the Council for Legal Education, the Law Association and other stakeholders establish a committee to consider the current quantitative and qualitative demands on admission to the practice of law
“The court encourages the parties to build consensus to expeditiously adopt such measures to give effect to the legal results of this dispute,” Kokaram said as he volunteered to mediate over the committee
Hadeed was represented by Christophe Rodriguez, Raisa Caesar, Sparkle Kirk and David Francis, while Fyard Hosein, SC, Rachel Thurab, Roshan Ramcharitar, Laura Persad and Khadine Matthews represented the Attorney General’s Office
Deborah Peake, SC, Ravi Heffes-Doon, Tamara Toolsie and Kerlene Alfonso represented the Law Association. Ian Benjamin, SC, Pierre Rudder, Michelle Benjamin and Ryan Grant represented the Registrar of the Supreme Court