What Do Recent Reforms In Legal Education Mean For Foreign Law Graduates?
During the Second World War, when the Germans were wreaking havoc over London with incessant attacks, Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister was briefed on the casualties and the economic collapse. He asked,
“Are the courts functioning?”
Upon being told that the judges were dispensing justice as normal, Churchill replied,
“Thank God. If the courts are working, nothing can go wrong.”
In Pakistan, the judicature has a constitutional duty to enforce the rule of law to safeguard the Constitution. In our legal system, courts carry out dispute resolution in accordance with the Constitution and the substantive and procedural law laid thereunder. The system flourishes through positive and productive cooperation between the bar and the bench in ascertaining the truth and deciding controversies according to the relevant applicable law.
The Supreme Court’s recent case on reforms in the legal education sector has given a glimpse on the role of foreign legal education providers in Pakistan. Legal education institutes providing foreign education to Pakistani students have proven to be cash-collecting machines rather than institutions that protect the interests of their students. The matter seems to have revealed the true colors of these institutions, some of which are very famous law schools in the country. Despite collecting millions of rupees from Pakistani students, they have failed to show their representation in the Supreme Court while leaving their students unsupported and uncertain about their future.
Over the years, with an increase in the demand for legal professionals, more and more people have preferred law as a career of choice, giving rise to the mushrooming of colleges with no proper legal education and training. Some of these law colleges were initially built on premises with only a room or two and no basic facilities. Simply having colleges and universities does not mean we have education as well, that is why the Supreme Court has closed down dozens of such legal education providers operating in the country while ordering many others to affiliate themselves with any of the 11 universities recognized in the jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court’s recent judgment provides criteria regarding the faculty of degree awarding institutions/ law colleges, according to which the dean/head/principal of the law department/ college must hold a Ph.D. in Law and have an experience of 8 years, at least 5 permanent/ full time faculty members/ teachers having a Masters degree with at least 5 years of teaching experience, and 5 part-time visiting faculty members having a 5-year standing as an advocate of the High Court. A highly educated and experienced faculty shall also prove to be very fruitful for law students once they enter the legal profession. Undoubtedly, the world needs real teachers – teachers who have broken their own shackles of indoctrination and teachers who can go beyond the narrow-mindedness of the society. Surely, a handful of young and zealous teachers in every nation is enough to rekindle the spark of knowledge-seeking among human beings.
According to the Supreme Court’s order, a ban on the 3-year long LL.B degree is to be introduced after 31 December, 2018 and the 5-year LL.B programme is to be introduced throughout Pakistan. The order also places a ban on evening classes being offered at law colleges/ universities across Pakistan. This will phase out non-serious law students and students who pass law exams simply to secure membership of the bar councils so that they may use their membership card as a pressure tactic in the future. This practice has greatly diminished public confidence in the legal profession. The reforms aim to allow only those students to enter the legal profession who wish to pursue it wholeheartedly as a career.
Education can be categorized into two streams. Formal education imparts knowledge while vocational education teaches us how to apply it. The Supreme Court’s judgment requires provincial bar councils to introduce a fortnight-long bar vocational course during a six-month pupillage period that any law graduate intending to join the profession must undergo in order to be enrolled as an advocate. Local education institutes provide good insights into the practicalities of the legal profession and legal procedures. Though foreign education providers do find internship placements for some students in major law firms over summer holidays, it is not enough to achieve the required objectives, especially when compared to the legal knowledge and experience required to sustain oneself in a highly competitive market.
According to the Supreme Court’s judgment, a Law Assessment Test (LAT) and a Law Graduate Assessment Test (Law-GAT) shall be held biannually and quarterly, respectively, and shall be conducted by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. No law graduate from any foreign university recognized by the Punjab Bar Council shall be allowed to take the Law Graduate Assessment Test (Law-GAT) unless he or she passes a Special Equivalence Examination (SEE) made specially for law graduates of foreign universities, which shall be conducted periodically by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. The test shall cover five areas, namely:
- the Constitution of Pakistan,
- the Civil Procedure Code,
- the Criminal Procedure Code,
- the Qanoon-e-Shahadat Order, and
- the Specific Relief Act.
The SEE introduced by the Supreme Court is going to be very tough for fresh graduates with foreign degrees. Education providers at present do not teach much of Pakistani law or other areas that can potentially benefit a student in his or her practice, even though they claim to be preparing students to practice law in Pakistan. This has left a huge gap in the learning process and most of the time the graduates are only ‘profession ready’ when they graduate. Furthermore, students who have already spent 3 years studying law will have to face two further tests and will still not be sure if they can enter the legal profession until they have successfully passed both tests.
The Supreme Court’s judgment was much needed for enhancing and maintaining the standards and quality of legal education. All law reforms ordered to be introduced by the Supreme Court through its judgment will be beneficial, not just for the general development of the legal profession as a whole, but for also ensuring quality over quantity in allowing the entry of competent, learned and committed professionals into the legal profession. No doubt, there was a dire need for such a judgment that could question the role of foreign education providers who had not been acting in the best interests of their students. Perhaps the recent judgment can raise the profession’s moral standards and ethics which have been taking a nosedive.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.