Fragmented Framework Of Legal Education In Pakistan
The legal education system of Pakistan is in a state of serious crisis and this is evident as we have been unable to lay out 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.
The Chief Justice of Pakistan recently 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 the Law Graduate Assessment Test (LAW-GAT) mandatory for all law graduates seeking enrollment in the Bar. It further submitted that the test should be held on quarterly basis by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan (HEC). The Chief Justice dismissed the authenticity of the National Testing Service (NTS) saying that the system was not good enough since many students passed the exam by cheating on it. He also stressed on the need for more competent lawyers instead of those who “sold paan during the day and practised law in the evening”.
The Supreme Court has now prohibited universities across the country to grant 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 the poor quality of teaching faculty coupled with inadequate law college resources, facilities and infrastructure. Universities are being run for commercial purposes rather than academic considerations. Professional ethics are not being prioritized at all. In most cases, young lawyers seeking part-time employment end up teaching at universities without any prior experience and qualification. The Supreme Court’s recent order has added that admission to LL.M and Ph.D programs by an authorized law college/university/institution shall be granted based on the criteria laid down by HEC, which also includes the ceiling on the number of students admitted.
The recent order has also laid out the minimum criteria for permanent faculty at law colleges, adding that the Dean/Head of Department/Principal of a law college shall hold a Ph.D in Law with a minimum of 8-year teaching experience or practice experience in the High Court, or a Masters degree in Law with at least a 15-year experience of teaching law and experience/practice in the High Court. There shall be at least five permanent faculty members with a Masters degree in Law, along with a minimum 5-year teaching experience and practice experience in the High Court, or a Bachelors degree in Law with a 10-year teaching experience/practice in High Court. Furthermore, there shall be at least five part-time/ visiting faculty members with a five-year standing as an advocate of the High Court.
The framework of legal education in the country is fragmented hence results in a great deal of confusion. Currently, legal education in Pakistan is being imparted under three systems:
- three-year LL.B program (to be discontinued after December 2018);
- five-year LL.B program; and
- University of London’s three-year international LL.B program.
The High Court has previously allowed the three-year program to continue in private institutions while restricting the five-year program to public universities, but this has created further anomalies.
Students who are graduating either from foreign universities or private institutions 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 law and the 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 students undertaking the external degree should be made aware of this new regulation before they pay hefty fees 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 from these universities struggle to understand trivial procedural matters and after the implementation of the equivalence test it will be nearly impossible for these graduates to clear the said test with the existing curriculum. Such private institutions which are offering external law degrees should incorporate modules and syllabi which the students will be examined on, especially in the entrance exam as well as the LAW-GAT.
Bar Councils seem 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, the syllabus, the method of teaching and examination, the need for a suitable bar exam and the importance of continuing legal education. It is high time that in view of the complex nature of the issue, universities across the country come together to implement the court’s recommendations, with the Supreme Court working to monitor this implementation.
It is essential for the universities and us, as a society, to understand that education is not simply a product, teachers are not salespersons and 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 the LAW-GAT but also the special equivalence test. It is time we upgrade our legal profession and promote the rule of law.
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.