THE Pakistan Bar Council (PBC) has attempted to reform legal education in Pakistan with the Legal Education Rules, 2015. Aside from other measures, these rules ban three-year law degrees and provide for a five-year law degree from 2016-2017. Given the need for reforms to legal education, the initiative should be appreciated; but it must hold up to a critical examination. Will these reforms as a whole improve legal education? Have they been introduced in accordance with the law? Scrutinising their capacity and legality will work to support the overall cause.
There is no denying that the quality of legal education is poor, and universities granting affiliation to ‘ghost’ law colleges should be stopped. At the same time, placing an embargo on all law schools notwithstanding their reputation, capacity and resources seems unjustified.
The rules deal with the form and not the substance of legal education. For example, they increase the duration for acquiring a law degree from three to five years without clear justification. In fact, the quality of legal education does not depend on the duration of courses alone; it hinges on the quality of admission methods (ie LSAT), teaching (ie Socratic and case law methods) and examination (judging analytical and reasoning skills). Surprisingly, the rules are silent on these aspects of legal education.
They focus on monitoring infrastructure (the building size and the number of rooms, number of books in the library, etc) rather than the manner in which legal education is imparted. One may ask, for example, whether the small building that houses the School of Oriental and African Studies in London reduces its worldwide reputation? The answer is no. The rules also fail to speak about the role of the PBC itself in the conduct of quality entry exams and continuous legal education for lawyers (eg on the pattern of the Law Society of England and State Bar Councils in the US).
The new legal education reforms contain contradictions.
The rules seem to have been drafted in haste without any meaningful consultation involving universities and law schools. For example, Rule 11 provides 40 per cent pass marks in each paper and 50pc as aggregate. It further provides a uniform first division at 60pc marks not divisible into further grading. At the same time, Rule 12 requires semester system examinations.
These rules are contradictory as grading of marks in the semester system cannot be devised in conformity with the grading specified in Rule 11. The mixing of a division-based annual system of examination with semester system grading shows the haphazard manner in which the rules have been devised.
Giving the PBC a supervisory role over universities offering purely academic degrees, ie LLM and PhD is similarly anomalous. Academic degrees are not subject to the approval of licensing authorities anywhere in the world. Giving PBC the authority to regulate purely academic degrees is an exception apparently created without reflecting upon the propriety of having the PBC supervise these degrees, or its capacity to do so.
Finally, the PBC has drafted the rules in the exercise of powers conferred upon it under Sections 13, 26, and 55 of the Legal Practitioners & Bar Councils Act, 1973. A bare reading of the act suggests the PBC has misconstrued the relevant provisions. The universities have been constituted under an act of parliament. Under the relevant acts, universities are mandated to determine the content of their syllabi and the duration of their degrees. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) is also there to support universities in formulating and delivering courses. The PBC seems to have gone beyond its legal authority and interfered in the lawful sphere of the universities.
For example, Rule 3 (vi) states that a recognised degree includes a Bachelor’s degree in law awarded by a university or a degree-awarding institution recognised by the PBC. So, the PBC’s role as per its own rules is limited to the recognition of an LLB degree. This role may not be extended to the approval of syllabi for academic degrees like LLM or PhD. Further, rules 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 bar BA/BSc graduates from admission in the three-year law programme, regulate the number of seats, the syllabi and duration of LLB programme courses and the timing of classes. These rules are arguably unconstitutional for being discriminatory, presumptive, and violative of fundamental rights.
Legal education reform requires a carefully considered policy drafted with the meaningful consultation of all stakeholders. This new law does not provide the required policy. The solution lies in revising the rules in joint sessions of the representatives of the PBC, HEC, universities, and law schools. The focus of legal education reforms should be on the quality of legal education, not on quantity alone.
The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore.
Published in Dawn, September 2nd, 2016