Committee mulls over penalty for teaching without licence

CHIEF executive officer (CEO) of the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) Dr Winsome Gordon has urged the joint select parliamentary committee reviewing legislation for the profession to consider the distinction between the legal and teaching professions.

This, it is expected, should determine the approach that should be taken for the offence of teaching without a licence.

In Thursday’s discussions between the technical, legal teams, and parliamentarians on the joint select committee which is reviewing the legislation, reference was made to research on the approach to licensing, taken by other professional bodies such as the General Legal Council.

The committee was advised that the research done thus far has not revealed any penalties for practising without a licence in other professions in Jamaica, only for fraud. She noted that the team had identified sanctions only in the legal profession, for practising without a practising certificate but that failure to pay the required fee and obtain the certificate could amount to professional misconduct, and not a criminal offence.

Dr Gordon stressed that it must be borne in mind that the legal profession is client-driven, whereas in the teaching profession, clients are “provided”. “There goes the difference when we make decisions regarding the teaching profession. The clients are provided by Government; if a teacher is a bad teacher, the teacher still has clients, if a lawyer is a bad client, clients can go away,” she said, stressing that the consequences must therefore be carefully considered.

The JTC Bill proposes that if a person practises as a teacher without a licence, they are liable on conviction to a fine of up to $500,000, while the Legal Profession Act provides that where the General Legal Council finds that a person is practising without a practising certificate, such persons are to be directed to pay the prescribed certificate fee in a specified time; and if the council isn’t satisfied that the requirements for continuing legal professional development have been met, to bring evidence of having met those requirements; or where the person is satisfied that the person is able to supply such evidence, to attend and complete within a specified time, specified courses of training in order to meet the requirements.

Government Senator Kavan Gayle argued against lumping teaching fraud, and failure to renew a licence together. “We ought to contemplate approaching it with making a clear distinction between a conviction for the fraudulent and disciplinary action as associated with other professions,” he said, pointing out that the joint select committee on tobacco control is grappling with decisions around a similar type of approach. “The challenge that I have is that if we have other professions that don’t impose criminal offence in this case, we ought to consider making the distinction,” he said.

Member of Parliament for St Elizabeth South Western Floyd Green stressed that in the legal profession the offence isn’t paying or not renewing a practising certificate, the offence is created by practising without having a licence.

“Akin to the legal profession, you can decide not to renew your legal cert, or you’re not going to get a new practising certificate but what that means is that you can’t practise as a lawyer. There would be no offence. So [similarly] if you go into the classroom not having renewed your licence, that’s where the offence is created,” he argued.Regarding a proposed tired penalty system for offences related to licences, there are indications that the committee may consider monetary provisions for first, second, and repeated offences.

The Jamaica Teachers’ Association has recommended that the $500 maximum fine now in the Bill be retained for the offences of fraud, and giving false information to the JTC, while pretending to have a licence should attract a maximum fine of $300,000, and practising without a licence $200,000. Presently, those offences attract a fine of $500,000 each.

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