Fragmented Framework Of Legal Education In Pakistan
The legal education system of Pakistan is in a state of serious crisis. This is evident as we have been unable to layout a clear national policy regarding the syllabus, teaching methodologies and accreditation. Various universities and colleges are being constantly criticized and questioned about their methods of instruction and examination. Recently, Chief Justice of Pakistan vowed to reform the standard of legal education in the country for which he constituted a special committee to look into the matter and submit a comprehensive report.
The comprehensive final report submitted by the committee before a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court talked about making Law Graduate Assessment Test (LAW-GAT) mandatory for all law graduates seeking enrollment to the Bar. It further submitted that the test should be held on quarterly basis by Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HECP). The Chief Justice dismissed the authenticity of the National Testing Service (NTS) saying that the system was not good enough as many students passed the exam by cheating. He also stressed on the need for competent lawyers instead of those who “sold paan during the day and practiced law in the evening”.Therefore, the Supreme Court has prohibited the universities from across the country from granting affiliation to new law colleges. Furthermore all the High Courts and subordinate courts have been barred from issuing a stay order on the case.
According to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the main reason for the decline of legal education includes poor quality of teaching faculty coupled with inadequate law college resources, facilities and infrastructure. Universities are run for commercial purposes rather than academic considerations. Professional ethics are not prioritized at all. in most of the cases the young lawyers seeking part time employment end up teaching at universities with no prior experience and qualification. The Supreme Court order added that admission to LL.M. and Ph.D. programs by an authorized law college/ university/institution shall be granted on the criteria laid down by HECP, including, the ceiling on the number of students admitted.
It also defined the minimum criteria for permanent faculty at law colleges, adding that the Dean/Head of Department/Principal of law colleges shall possess a PhD in law with a minimum of eight years teaching experience or practice experience in High Court or a Master’s degree in law with at least 15 years experience of teaching law and experience/practice in High Court. There shall be at least five permanent faculty members with Master’s Degree in law along with minimum of five years experience of teaching and practice experience in High Court or a Bachelor’s degree in law with 10 years of teaching experience/practice in High Court. Furthermore there shall be at least five part-time/visiting faculty members with a five years standing as an advocate of High Court.
The framework of legal education in the country is overlapping and fragmented hence resulting in a great deal of confusion. Currently, legal education in Pakistan is being imparted under three models: (i) a three-year LL.B. program (to be discontinued after December 2018); (ii) a five-year LL.B. program; (iii) and the University of London external LL.B. program. In the past the High Court allowed the three-year program to continue in private institutions while restricting the five-year program to public universities which, however, created a further anomaly.
Students who are graduating either from foreign universities, or from those private institutions which are offering external law degrees, are required to take an equivalence test, before they are eligible to appear for the Law GAT. The syllabus of this equivalence test consists of the Constitution of Pakistan, Civil and Criminal Procedure Codes, the Qanoon-e-Shahadat,and Specific Relief Act, none of which are taught at these universities.
The process and method of teaching and evaluation should be based on sound analysis and legal reasoning. All the students undertaking the external degree should be made aware about this new regulation before they pay the hefty fee of the external program. There should be more awareness regarding the fact that these degrees do not cover the main modules required to understand and practice law in Pakistan. Fresh graduates form the universities struggle to understand trivial procedural matters as it is and, after the implementation of this equivalence test, it will be nearly impossible for these graduates to clear the said test with existing curriculum as it currently exists. Such private institutions which are offering external law degrees should incorporate modules and syllabus which the students will be examined on, during the entrance exam as well as in the Law GAT.
The Bar Councils seems to be more engaged in bar politics than regulating the legal profession. They have failed to provide long term substantive measures to reform legal education. The Supreme Court, however, has occasionally sought to address various problems with legal education. Once again, it is the Supreme Court that has embarked on an effort to reform our legal education making use of its suo motu powers. This time, it has recommended specific standards regarding entry into law schools, their syllabus, the method of teaching and examination, the need for a suitable bar exam, and the importance of continuous legal education. It is high time that in view of the complex nature of the issue, universities across the country should come together to implement the Court’s recommendations, with the Supreme Court working to monitor that implementation.
It is essential for the universities and us, as a society, and the universities to understand that education is not simply a product, the teachers are not sales-persons and the students are not merely customers. Students should be well informed about the syllabus and its practical implications as well as its drawbacks. Private institutions offering external law degrees, specifically, need to prepare their students for not only Law GAT but also, the special equivalence test. It’s time that we upgrade our legal profession and promote the rule of law.
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