The Court of Appeal has refused to reverse the suspension of a recent judgment, which struck down a law, that gave prospective lawyers from T&T, who completed their post-graduate qualifications in the United Kingdom, a short-cut into the legal profession over CARICOM nationals.
Delivering an oral decision at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Appellate Judges Nolan Bereaux, Judith Jones and Andre Des Vignes ruled that their colleague, Appeal Court Judge Prakash Moosai was entitled to suspend the judgement in September.
The decision directly impacts 31 citizens, who are seeking to utilise it later this month and would have been barred from doing so if the suspension was lifted.
Presenting submissions on behalf of Grenada-born, St Lucian national Dianne Jhamilly Hadeed, who brought the lawsuit, attorney Raisa Caesar suggested that the suspension meant that the discriminatory and unconstitutional legislation was allowed to operate while the case is being appealed.
Bereaux intervened as he asked Caesar to explain how Hadeed was prejudiced by the suspension as compared to 31 other persons, who could benefit from the legislation.
“What happens if Justice Vasheist Kokaram is wrong? What about the people who are now put in that situation? Are they not now prejudiced?” Bereaux said.
Caesar suggested that there would also be an issue if the appeal is eventually dismissed after the 31 applicants are admitted to practice. She also said that the court did not have the jurisdiction to grant a stay or suspension of Kokaram’s declaration against the legislation as it was a final order, which took immediate effect.
Responding to the submissions, attorneys for the Attorney General and the Registrar of the Supreme Court both agreed that Moosai had the power to suspend the decision.
In their decision, the judges agreed that Moosai’s action was permitted as part of the court’s discretion and was warranted as the appeal in the case is set to be heard on December 17.
“The law does not develop in a vacuum, it adjusts,” Jones said. However, Jones admitted that such discretion should only be exercised sparingly and in specific circumstances.
In the controversial lawsuit, Hadeed, who resides in Trinidad, challenged Section 15 (1A) of the Legal Profession Act. The segment of the legislation gives T&T citizens who do not obtain a post-graduate Legal Education Certificate (LEC) from the Hugh Wooding Law School an avenue to be admitted to practice law.
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 competitive two-year LEC programme, which has limited spaces but is open to all CARICOM nationals.
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.
Kokaram also noted that the government admitted that the legislation offended CARICOM treaties of which T&T is a party, but claimed that it was done to help build a cadre of lawyers in T&T.
In his judgement, Kokaram decided to strike down the legislation as opposed to amending it to include CARICOM nationals.
Instead, he advised Parliament to amend the legislation or appeal the decision. AG’s Office chose the latter option.
Kokaram’s decision did not affect attorneys who were admitted before it was delivered as it had no retrospective effect.
His decision mainly affected students who completed their external University of London LLB programmes at private tertiary institutions such as the Institute of Law and Academic Studies (ILAS) and Academy of Tertiary Studies (ATS).
Such students are usually forced to complete their post-graduate studies in the UK as places at the Hugh Wooding Law School are hard to come by and graduates of the University of the West Indies (UWI) have direct access.
The Registrar of the Supreme Court was represented by Ian Benjamin, SC while Fyard Hosein, SC, led the AG’s Office legal team.
Reporter: Derek Achong,