In 1997 Professor John Knechtle came to Florida Coastal School of Law (FCSL) to teach and to develop innovative international programs. He sought to expand on models developed at the American Bar Association’s Central & East Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA – CEELI) where he previously worked as Director of Legal Assessments and Director of the Environmental Law Program. Combining the educational platforms of U.S. and Caribbean law schools with opportunities to study law and effect law reforms in different countries, he sought to create programs that listened to cultural diversity, deepened mutual relationships, and furthered education at multiple levels while at the same time assisting policy makers, businesses and the legal profession. Recognizing the common destiny of the countries in the Caribbean Basin he sought to create programs that would increase communication and collaboration.

When a former CEELI Advisory Board Member and former Dean at Howard University School of Law, Henry Ramsey, Jr. informed Professor Knechtle and Don Lively, the Dean at FCSL, that he had a contact in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jamaica, a meeting was scheduled and the three flew to Jamaica to meet with Prime Minister P.J. Patterson in June of 2000.

Based on successful meetings with Prime Minister Patterson, Attorney General A.J. Nicholson, and Principal Keith Sobion of the Norman Manley Law School (NMLS), an agreement was reached in principal to create the Caribbean Law Initiative (later renamed the American & Caribbean Law Initiative). Dean Lively invited Dean Joseph Harbough of Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center (NSU) and Dean John Brittain of Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) to join in the founding of the ACLI. On August 29, 2000 deans from these four law schools, Hugh Salmon, Senior Assistant Attorney General of Jamaica, representatives from the City of Jacksonville, along with Henry Ramsey, Jr. and Professor Knechtle participated in a Convocation at FCSL celebrating the creation of the ACLI. Attorney General A.J. Nicholson was the featured speaker to the audience of about 200 people.

The four deans signed a memorandum of understanding at the Convocation which established the ACLI to advance their respective educational missions, facilitate collaborative growth and relationships, and support the legal development of Caribbean nations. The agreement and its subsequent evolution contemplated developing:

  1. Caribbean Law Clinic (CLC) in which students from participating institutions would assess legal problems and issues responsive to the needs of the governments of the Caribbean nations.
  2. A network among law schools in the Americas and the Caribbean Basin that will be a resource for reviewing and evolving the law of participating nations;
  3. Innovative learning and high impact public service opportunities for law students and ACLI members;
  4. Interaction with individuals, communities, law firms, businesses and NGOs interested in facilitating trade and economic development;
  5. A means for government officials, lawyers, judges, and legal educators to learn from their diverse experiences, share knowledge, and build relations between and among their respective legal systems;
  6. Forums that bring experts from participating nations together regularly to address common policy interests and concerns;
  7. Publications, such as student law reviews, journals, and newsletters as resources for joint scholarship, assessments of policies concerning the Caribbean Basin and the Americas, and news of interest to the members; and
  8. The founding institutions as role models for effective multicultural and international partnering.

Each educational institution member assumes responsibility for building networks in its community that will facilitate interaction with and support for the ACLI.

In 2001 the Council of Legal Education, which administers and operates the three professional law schools in the Commonwealth Caribbean, approved the ACLI Memorandum of Understanding to support the relationship the ACLI established with the Norman Manley Law School and to anticipate the involvement of its other two law schools. Also in 2001, the ACLI affiliated with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).

In 2001 the Caribbean Law Clinic, the flagship program of the ACLI, commenced. The Caribbean Law Clinic (CLC) gave students from around the Caribbean the opportunity to work collaboratively on live legal problems referred to the CLC by attorney generals from various Caribbean jurisdictions. For the first couple of years, Attorney General A.J. Nicholson of Jamaica hosted the clinic each semester. However as new members joined, the CLC began to move around the Caribbean to the jurisdiction of each host member law school.

Professor Knechtle served as the President of the ACLI’s Board of Directors from ’00 to ’09 and currently serves as its Treasurer. He has directed Florida Coastal’s Caribbean Law Clinic since its inception. Other Florida Coastal faculty who are or have been involved in the ACLI include Professor Cleveland Ferguson who serves as the Editor-in-Chief of the ACLI Newsletter, Professor Roger Groves, Vice Dean Terri Davlantes, Professor Christopher Roederer, Professor Lynn McDowell, Professor Randy Abate, and Professor Brian Foley.

Keith Sobion, former Principal of Norman Manley Law School and former Attorney General of Trinidad & Tobago, played the key role in involving the Council of Legal Education and CARICOM with the ACLI as well as increasing the membership and participation of Caribbean law schools. He was also instrumental in introducing the ACLI to eight attorney generals of the Commonwealth Caribbean and hosting the ACLI’s first law conference in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. He served as Vice President of the ACLI’s Board of Directors from its founding in 2000 until 2008. NMLS Senior Tutor and Acting Principal (’86 – ’88), Carol Aina, supervised NMLS students in the Caribbean Law Clinic (’01 – ’09) and served on the ACLI board of directors (’02 – ’09). In 2009 Stephen Vasciannie became Principal of NMLS. Senior Tutor George Belnavis currently runs NMLS’ Caribbean Law Clinic and represents the school on the ACLI board.

The ACLI supports the development of its member schools in the Caribbean and to that end, used part of its revenues to enable students and faculty to participate on an equal basis with U.S. law schools in ACLI programs. In 2001 the ACLI donated computers and a printer to NMLS to create a computer lab for students to use to conduct legal research in the Caribbean Law Clinic among other purposes. It is housed in the ground floor of NMLS.

Jane Cross, Associate Professor of Law at Nova Southeastern University Shepherd Broad Law Center, played a leadership role in the development of the Caribbean Law Clinic and the ACLI Law Conference. Professor Cross served as the ACLI Board Secretary from ’01 – ’09 and now serves as its Vice President (’09 – ). She has directed NSU’s Caribbean Law Clinic since its inception. Other NSU faculty who have been involved with the ACLI include former Associate Dean Paul Joseph, Former Associate Dean William Adams, Professor Linda Harrison, Professor James Wilets and Professor Shahabudeen Khan.

Professor Martina Cartwright of Texas Southern University’s Thurgood Marshall School of Law (TMSL) was the ACLI board’s first Treasurer. She worked with Professor Victoria Dawson in overseeing TMLS’ Caribbean Law Clinic. In 2009 Professor Kamille Wolf and Assistant Dean Prudence Smith oversaw TMLS’ CLC.

In 2002 under the leadership of Principal Miriam Samaru, the Eugene Dupuch Law School (EDLS) in Nassau, Bahamas joined the ACLI and began participating in the Caribbean Law Clinic. In 2006 Principal Samaru and EDLS hosted the ACLI’s second law conference in Nassau, Bahamas. In 2008 Tonya Bastian Galanis became Principle of NMLS and in 2009 she was elected President of the ACLI Board of Directors. EDLS’s Caribbean Law Clinic has been supervised over the years by several faculty, including Tonya Bastian Galanis, Senior Tutor Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Senior Tutor II Clive Guy, and Tutor Elsworth Johnson. Tutor Carla D. Card-Stubbs now supervises EDLS’s Caribbean Law Clinic.

In 2003, under the leadership of Principal Annestine Sealey, the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS) in Trinidad & Tobago joined the ACLI and began participating in the Caribbean Law Clinic. In 2008 Miriam Samaru stepped down as Principal at Eugene Dupuch Law School and became Principal at HWLS. In 2009 Principal Samaru and HWLS hosted the ACLI’s third law conference in Port of Spain, Trinidad. HWLS faculty who have supervised students for its Caribbean Law Clinic, served on the ACLI board or helped organize the ACLI law conference include Tutor Karen Nunez-Tesheira, Senior Tutor Cheryl Ann Jerome-Alexander, Course Director Fitzgerald Alleyne, Senior Tutor Emerson John Charles, Tutor Michael Theodore, Course Director Nisha Mathura-Allahar, Tutor Barbara Lodge-Johnson, and Course Director Ricky Rahim.

The ACLI was incorporated in the State of Florida in 2003 and is in the process of gaining its 501©(3) status with the Internal Revenue Service. Its by-laws describe how its directors are elected or appointed and sets out its basic governance and membership structure. It is structured so that it may expand to include participation by other jurisdictions of the Caribbean and the Americas and has the following classes of members: educational institutions, law firms, businesses, NGOs, and individuals. Due to the founding educational mission of the ACLI, educational institution members have a controlling interest on the ACLI board.

The ACLI board of directors seeks to effectively coordinate ACLI activities, raise the necessary funds, develop policies, distribute responsibilities, oversee implementation of programs, and hold the organization to its mission. The board has met two to four times a year since 2000 and has held two strategic planning sessions, most recently in January 2011.

In 2004 the ACLI held its first law conference “Caribbean Market Forces; Emerging Trends in International and Comparative Law” in Jamaica. NMLS served as the host law school and the conference was held at the Renaissance Jamaica Grande Resort in Ocho Rios. There were six panels and over 90 participants with much media coverage in Jamaica.

In 2004, under the leadership of Dean Darby Dickerson and Associate Dean John Cooper, Stetson University College of Law joined the ACLI and became involved in the Caribbean Law Clinic. Professor Darryl Wilson, the ACLI’s Board Secretary, and Professor Dorothea Beane have led Stetson’s involvement in the Caribbean Law Clinic. Associate Dean John Cooper and Professor Stephanie Vaughan have managed the ACLI – Stetson Winter Program at the Cayman Islands Law School.

In 2005 the ACLI launched the ACLI Newsletter to provide information on current developments in the law affecting the Caribbean Basin and to keep members apprised of ACLI events and activities. With an editorial board from ACLI member schools, Editor-in-Chief Cleveland Ferguson and Copy Editor Clare Raulerson, produce the newsletter twice a year. Professor Wilson serves as Case Notes Editor and the ACLI Board president usually write a column.

In 2006, under the leadership of Director Mitchell Davies the Cayman Islands Law School (CILS) joined the ACLI and began participating in the Caribbean Law Clinic. Director Davies has supervised the students in CILS’ Caribbean Law Clinic since its inception. Two members of the CILS faculty have also been involved in the ACLI, Assistant Director Deborah Barker and Course Leader Andrew Woodcock.

In 2006 the ACLI held its second law conference “Trade and Legal Aid: Tools for Economic Development” in Nassau, Bahamas. The conference was jointly sponsored by the organization Northeast People of Color. EDLS served as the host law school and the conference was held at the Hilton in downtown Nassau. Over 90 participants heard panels over two days and there was good local media coverage of the conference.

In 2008, CILS agreed to host the ACLI – Stetson Winter Program where students from any law school may take courses on Caribbean law taught or co-taught by professors from around the Caribbean. Managed by Stetson University College of Law, this joint program of the ACLI provides students with the unique opportunity of taking courses for two weeks in Caribbean law from professors coming from various law schools. This also offers interested professors an opportunity each winter to mingle, develop curricula and teach collaboratively on current issues of Caribbean law.

In 2009 the ACLI held its third law conference “Dispute Resolution & Restorative Justice” in Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago. HWLS served as the host institution and the conference was held at the Hilton in St. Anne, a neighborhood of Port of Spain. Before the conference began, a large reception was held to honor Keith Sobion who had passed away and many leading legal figure of the region were present, including several justices from the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). The conference was well attended and Justice Jacob Wit of the CCJ and the Honorable Ivor Archie, Chief Justice for Trinidad & Tobago were special speakers.

In 2011 the ACLI anticipates admitting Florida International University School of Law (FIU) as an educational institution member of the ACLI.