Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules 2015 – A Legal Critique
The question of legal education in Pakistan is a hot topic these days. This is particularly because of the Pakistan Bar Council Rules 2015 which not only imposed a permanent ban on the 3-year LLB degree program but also enforced an age restriction upon aspiring law graduates. The immediate reaction to these Rules was positive and people took it as an initiative towards the betterment of legal education. However, with the passage of time, its implications and consequences sent the whole system of legal education into chaos and confusion.
According to the Pakistan Bar Council (PBC), the purpose of these rules and changes was to improve the value and quality of the law degree and legal education. However, a critical reading of these Rules suggests their making in haste. These Rules are not only full of vagueness and lacunas but also depict the usurpation of powers by the PBC.
The importance of law and legal education cannot be denied in any way. And, there is no doubt that effective measures should be taken in order to improve the quality and value of legal education. But, at the same time it is equally important that the proper procedure to introduce such changes should be followed and the reforms should be deliberate and properly planned instead of merely being premature ideas.
It is quite evident that when, in law, due process is not followed, the results are full of loopholes and ambiguities, which is the exact case with Bar Council Rules 2015.
According to the Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973, it is part of the functions of Pakistan Bar Council to promote legal education within Pakistan and take steps to upgrade its standards. However, the important thing to note is that Pakistan Bar Council is not given absolute power to bring such reforms but to do so in “consultation” with the universities and the provincial bar councils. The importance of consultation and its due meanings can be gathered from cases like the Al-Jehad Trust case.
In the process of introducing these rules, neither the universities nor the provincial bar councils were taken on board and no consultation, which the statute mandates, was made in practice. Not even the Punjab University Law College, which is the mother institution in legal education and a pioneer of the 5-year LLB (Honours) program, was consulted before making such drastic changes in legal education.
The outcomes of this abrupt legislation could be no different from what we are facing these days. The admission process is still at pause. University sessions are being delayed until the final verdict of the court and the suffering parties are none other than the ordinary citizens of Pakistan.
Since the Rules were mainly addressing the academic part of LLB, it would have been essential to take views from the academicians and educational institutions. By doing so, many of the issues which are being raised in court about the subject matter could have been addressed at departmental level and the chaos could have easily and efficiently been avoided.
By not involving educational institutions, Pakistan Bar Council has not only put the whole system of legal education into confusion but has also exceeded its powers under section 13(1)(j) of Legal Practitioners and Bar Councils Act 1973. This is evident from the section as follows:
Section 13 - Functions of the Pakistan Bar Council -
 Subject to the provisions of this Act and the rules made thereunder, the functions of the Pakistan Bar Council shall be-
(j) to promote legal education and prescribe standards of such education in consultation with the universities in Pakistan and the Provincial Bar Councils.
The dilemma is that in these Rules, Pakistan Bar Council has also mandated upon universities offering LLM and PhD degrees to obtain prior permission from the Pakistan Bar Council itself, again without consultation with the universities, even though the LLM and PhD are purely research-based and academic degrees and do not relate to legal practice.
Another important aspect to consider is that the standards cannot be improved by increasing or decreasing the years of a degree. What matters is the substance of the degree and the quality of education which can be done by introducing bar training courses, seminars, conferences and workshops in collaboration with the Pakistan Bar Council to engage law students into practical work. All bar councils can also collaborate with universities and law schools to organize various helpful internship programs and practicing opportunities for the upcoming lawyers, which would practically enhance capacity building and inculcate critical thinking and legal acumen among them.
Dealing with the purely academic dimension of legal studies without even consulting the relevant bodies cannot achieve the requisite ends. Moreover, there is no harm in pursuing the 3-year LLB degree for those who want to gain the knowledge of law. Law is not an isolated discipline in society. It shows its involvement in every field, every profession and at every level. From business to academics, from civil services to private jobs, from finance to medicine, law is involved in every field. People from every profession, every background and every age should be exposed to legal education. This would help in the overall betterment of the society by inculcating a sense of ‘law abidingness’. Moreover, many of the departmental disputes and lower level issues would be justly tackled at departmental levels if the people dealing with such matters were well versed with the law as well. This would in turn reduce the burden upon courts.
However, the bar can impose checks on licensing law graduates as full time practitioners. Unfortunately, the bar has not focused on its own criteria and standards which are the real factors in enrollment of eligible and competent lawyers.
Legal education can intelligently be distinguished from legal practice. The significance of the education of law cannot be denied because it is helpful in every field, however the standards to practice law as a full time practitioner can be set higher. There is also a dire need to ensure transparency in the bar councils’ enrollment test. To conclude I would say,
“If development is seen as a self-conscious effort to transform society, law has a multiple relationship to this process, law may be seen as an instrument by which man in society consciously tries to change environment…” - Legal Education in a Changing World: Report of the Committee on Legal Education in the Developing Countries
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any other organization with which he might be associated.