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Vasciannie moots Law School expansion

Top diplomat hopes dream becomes reality within 18 months

BY HG HELPS Editor-at-Large helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, July 22, 2012    

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AMBASSADOR Stephen Vasciannie's last wish for the Norman Manley Law School as he takes up a diplomatic appointment in the United States, is for the institution to see a 100 per cent expansion in its student base within 18 months.

In his last media interview before becoming Jamaica's most senior diplomat, having taken on the job of Ambassador to the United States and the Organisation of American States last week, Vasciannie disclosed that plans were on the table for the law school — where he served as principal for four years — to take in more students and broaden its base as it tries to cater to the growing demand of people wanting to pursue legal studies.

The school presently has 360 students enrolled, split evenly between those doing first- and second-year studies.

"The Norman Manley Law School, as part of the Council of Legal Education, has sought over the years to provide good legal education to sons and daughters of the Caribbean," Vasciannie told the Jamaica Observer.

"However, the number of people who have benefitted from this has been relatively limited, so the Council has sought to find ways of expanding the intake of students. This is true, too, for the University of the West Indies, the University of Technology, as well as other tertiary institutions that provide assistance.

"One challenge we have is how to expand the law school, to be able to deal with the increase in demand for places among law students, and so an initiative is in place to expand the law school, so that it can take approximately 400 students per year, up from the current 180 students per year," he said.

That initiative, according to Vasciannie, involves erecting a new building in the vicinity of the law school on the University of the West Indies, Mona campus, in Kingston.

"I very much hope that this project will go ahead. There is support from the UWI and the Council has approved it. I hope it will go ahead, so that greater opportunities can be provided for students.

"Based upon what has been happening, it will ultimately be for the Council to determine the pace, but I would say within the next 18 months the expansion should be completed," he said.

Reflecting on the four years that he spent as principal of the law school, Vasciannie said that the institution was close to his heart, having helped in its improvement and transformation.

"I became the principal on August 1, 2008 and it has been exhilarating and, at times, challenging, and I hope that some of the changes that I have been party to will continue into the future," Vasciannie said.

"I hope that some of the changes will build on foundations that I have worked with others to put in place," he added.

Among the major achievements of the law school in the time that he spent there, he reasoned, was the impact that the institution made on the international stage.

He sees it as a way of giving assurance both to Jamaicans and to other Caribbean nationals about standards at the institution.

Vasciannie's excitement is vested in the four major international competitions for law students in mooting or client interviewing that Norman Manley won between 2008 and this year.

"The competitions that we have won are the World Human Rights Mooting competition in South Africa, we have won that twice, back to back; the Brown Masten Client Counselling Competition that was in Maastricht, the Netherlands, and the Frankfurt Investment Law Mooting Competition in Germany.

"We also placed among the top 16 in the world in the Jessop Mooting Competition twice in the last four years and placed in the top four in another of the years, and considering that we were new entrants, this is a very high level of performance. We have won awards for best new team, best team in Latin America and the Caribbean, and so on. So putting the law school on the international stage is what would count most."

The four victories, he said, must be credited to the hard work and dedication of the students with assistance from staff members. Vasciannie also noted that training a team for international competition requires mental preparation and match-fitness. The law school, he added, has had excellent guidance from those accompanying the teams, including some of the coaches, as well as others such as George Belnavis, Fara Brown, Tania Mott, Eulalie Greenaway, Norman Davis and Audrey Welds, all of whom have travelled with teams overseas.

"I am also proud to say that Norman Manley Law School students have been successful in garnering scholarships at a very high level — Rhodes Scholarships, Commonwealth Scholarships, Chevening Scholarships — and people have gone abroad and have excelled, as well, there," he added.

Another level of achievement at the institution is the friendly environment that it provides for its students.

In recent years, students had been able to point to practical ways in which the law school had sought to accommodate them, the former principal said, citing as an example the law school remaining open 24 hours a day to allow students use of the library.

"If you have exam pressure and you need a place to study or do research, the library is always open. That's an initiative that we have introduced. Tutorial rooms are also open around exam time for those who wish to study, and significant numbers take up the offer.

"Also, simply by seeking to foster good relationships with students, you put yourself in a position to help students with their problems.

"Many students have financial challenges. Law is a five-year programme over time and the school seeks to provide some degree of financial assistance to some students. This is not my initiative that I would embrace on my own. This is something that is done by the school, and Ms Beverley Phillips, the acting registrar, has been particularly helpful in this regard.

"There are scholarships that help students and we have also sought to be a zone of unity for the legal profession. For instance, we have had a number of distinguished lectures and dinners, which is a new initiative, two or three per year and have invited various officials and private individuals to give lectures at these functions. That's an achievement that I hope will continue because we tend get to bring back law school alumni to meet with law school students, to be able to socialise and pass on some of the values in the legal profession to up-and-coming law students," Vasciannie stated.

The the West Indian Law Journal, a twice-yearly publication by the law school, which is seen as helping in the development of Caribbean jurisprudence, has also been re-invigorated.

The journal encourages the publications of articles by some of the best legal minds setting out perspectives on the law at a very high standard and, by Vasciannie's definition, show the world that "we are as good as other places".

Vasciannie thanked all the tutors, associate tutors and other lawyers who have generously offered their time and expertise to the law school's mooting and interviewing times.

"Our teams have flourished in large part because of excellent coaching from Senior Tutor Emerita Dorcas White, Nancy Anderson, Celia Barclay, Celia Middleton, Hazel Edwards, Lorraine Patterson, Komal Bhojwani, Kamille Adair-Morgan, and several other lawyers," he told the Sunday Observer.

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