Justice Vasheist Kokaram

Derek Achong

The Court of Appeal has ruled that a law, that gives 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 is neither discriminatory nor unconstitutional.

Delivering a judgment during a virtual hearing yesterday morning, Appellate Judges Nolan Bereaux, Judith Jones, and Andre Des Vignes overruled a judgment by their colleague Justice Vasheist Kokaram which he delivered before he was elevated to the Court of Appeal.

Bereaux, who read the judgment, noted that while national and non-nationals are treated differently under Section 15(1A) of the Legal Profession Act, non-nationals are not discriminated against.

He noted that even if the legislation is discriminatory, the Parliament had rational justification for the provision considering the specific concerns for legal education in T&T and the limited spaces at the Hugh Wooding Law School in St Augustine to obtain post-graduate qualifications necessary to be called to the local bar.

He also claimed that Parliament’s actions were proportionate in the circumstances.

The lawsuit was brought by Grenada-born St Lucian national Dianne Jhamilly Hadeed.

Hadeed, who resides in Trinidad, challenged the segment of the legislation which gives T&T citizens, who do not obtain a post-graduate Legal Education Certificate (LEC) from the local law school, an avenue to be admitted to practice law.

Citizens, who obtain post-graduate qualifications in the United Kingdom or another Commonwealth jurisdictions 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 which T&T is a party, but claimed that it was done to help build a cadre of lawyers in T&T.

In his judgment, 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. The Office of the Attorney General chose the latter option.

When the appeal was initially filed the AG’s Office sought a temporary stay, which effectively allowed a large group of citizens, who had qualified before the judgement was delivered in September, last year, to be called to the bar.

Kokaram’s decision mainly affected students who completed their external University of London LLB undergraduate 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 law school are hard to come by as students of the University of the West Indies (UWI) graduates are preferential access.

Hadeed was represented by Christophe Rodriguez, Raisa Caesar, Sparkle Kirk and David Francis while the AG’s Office was represented by Fyard Hosein, SC, Rishi Dass, Rachel Thurab, Kadine Matthews and Laura Persad.

The Law Association was represented by Alvin Fitzpatrick, SC, and Joseph Sookoo, while Ian Benjamin, SC, led the legal team for the Supreme Court Registrar.