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Crisis of law education

Zia Ullah Ranjah |

Pakistan is facing a legal education crisis. Without a clear national policy, there is lack of institutional consensus regarding the entrance examinations for both law schools and the bar.

There is confusion about the appropriate curriculum and method of teaching and sharp disagreements on the need for vocational training, the method of final examination, etc. Quite recently, the Supreme Court constituted a special committee to look into this matter and submit a comprehensive report.

For years, the government and relevant institutions (eg the Higher Education Commission, the Pakistan Bar Council [PBC], and the Supreme Judicial Council [SJC]) have ignored the importance of proper legal education and training of lawyers and judges.

The HEC is mandated to ensure the quality of higher education under the HEC Ordinance, 2002, yet under the Constitution’s 18th Amendment, higher education was devolved to the provinces. So far, no province has drafted any policy or legal framework to regulate legal education.

The latter is still regulated by the PBC under the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act, 1973. The PBC,

however, has finally begun to reform legal education with the Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015. The SJC is obliged to monitor the capacity and conduct of superior court judges under the Constitution (Article 209). This legal framework is overlapping and fragmented; hence there
is confusion.

Currently, legal education in Pakistan is being imparted under three models: a three-year LL.B programme (to be discontinued after December 2018 according to the Rules 2015); a five-year LL.B programme; and the University of London external LL.B.

The Rules, 2015, however, have created a further anomaly. When they replaced the three-year LL.B with the five-year LL.B, they were challenged before a full bench of the Lahore High Court; the court allowed the three-year programme to continue in private institutions while restricting the five-year programme to public universities. It missed the opportunity to provide long-term substantive measures to reform legal education.

Substandard law colleges have mushroomed across the country — with no effective mechanism to eliminate or monitor ‘ghost’ colleges. Law school admission is granted without any standard test. In fact, even after 2015, the word ‘merit’ is defined nowhere in the laws relating to legal education.

Law schools generally follow outdated methods of teaching and examination. Likewise, the PBC has failed to put in place a quality exam for entry into the legal profession.

The bar councils are engaged more in bar politics than regulating the legal profession. Further, continuous legal education is not mandatory under the law.

The Supreme Court, however, has occasionally sought to address various problems with legal education. In a case titled ‘Pakistan Bar Council vs Federal Government of Pakistan’, the court identified several reasons for the decline of legal education: (i) mushroom growth of substandard law colleges; (ii) absence of eligibility criteria for admission; (iii) poor quality of teaching faculty; (iv) inadequate law college resources, facilities, and infrastructure; (v) a preference for commercial rather than academic considerations; (vi) lack of attention to professional ethics; and (viii) a below-par exam system. However,
the court could not provide a comprehensive solution.

Once again, however, the SC has embarked on an effort to reform legal education in its suo motu jurisdiction. This time, it should recommend specific standards regarding entry into law schools, syllabi, the method of teaching and examination, the need for a suitable bar exam, and the importance of continuous legal education.

It should examine the relevant literature and consult international experts as well in order to recommend cutting-edge re­­forms in the legal profession. It is also hoped that the SC will play an effective role in monitoring and improving the competence and conduct of the judiciary.

There should, for instance, be a high-quality test for admission to law schools and the bar; teaching and examination should be based on sound analysis and legal reasoning; continuous legal education should be mandatory; third-party audits of law colleges should be conducted with due representation of the bench and bar; and, the regulatory regime for the members of the legal profession needs to be refined and implemented.

Finally, in view of the complex nature of the issue, stakeholders across the country should come together to implement the court’s recommendations, with the PBC and the SC working to monitor that implementation.

The World Justice Project 2017-2018 ranks Pakistan at 105 out of 113 countries. This shows how the time has come to upgrade the legal profession and promote the rule of law. A poor justice system cannot deliver to the people.

The writer is a lawyer.