Law University in the Offing
Dr. Uttam Kumar Das
SOMETIMEs ago, one of our legal academics questioned the logic of our expectation for rule of law in the country without any public investment for legal education in Bangladesh. The point deserves serious attention and consideration.
I was also told a story: there was an option to get funding from a multilateral donor agency either to invest for quality education or for infrastructure (i.e., court buildings, furniture etc.). The bureaucrats and policy makers obviously opted for the infrastructure for understandable reasons.
In the present system, law departments at four public universities are running on public money allocated through the University Grants Commission. However, the standard and quality of the curriculum of those schools, teaching methodologies, scholarship, original research and publications of respective faculties (with few exceptions of course), resources available for students and faculties, and above all the quality of the graduating students, are not beyond questions. The situation is even worse at private universities and law colleges. (Some are even accused of selling out certificates).
A decision was taken during the caretaker government headed by Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed to establish public law colleges at divisional levels. Also, there was a discussion to introduce law as an independent course in college-levels. Unfortunately, there is no progress in this regard. The same also goes for human rights education.
India has so far around 15 full-fledged law universities starting with the National Law School of India University in Bangalore. This is a brainchild of the Indian Bar Council. There is the National University of Juridical Sciences in Kolkata. All those pioneering institutes have come to reality under the planning and leadership of the legendary figure in legal and human rights education, Professor N. R. Madhava Menon.
During my recent year-long stay in the United States as a Fulbright Hubert H. Humphrey Fellow (2009-2010), I have taken every opportunity to visit different Law Schools, talk to respective faculties and students, and to observe and monitor how those institutions operate. Though based in University of Minnesota Law School and Human Rights Center in Minneapolis, I traveled to New York City, Buffalo, Atlanta, Barkley, and Lincoln in this regard. I was amazed visiting each of the institutions and seeing how innovative, practical and effective the curriculum and teaching methodologies they had. Those institutions have been competing with each other attracting better students and producing quality publications.
I have been wondering when we would have such institutions in Bangladesh, and how I could be contributing to bring forth such an initiative. There is a ray of hope that is initiated by the eminent Jurist Dr. Kamal Hossian and his colleagues.
I had an opportunity to speak in a reception organized by a Lawyers' organization in honour of Dr. Hossain in New York in January this year. I had requested him to initiate a global-standard institution in Bangladesh. Dr. Hossain has already initiated the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS). The next target is to turn it into a full-fledged South Asian Law University.
The Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, Barrister Shafique Ahmed, has already assured to establishing a Law University in Bangladesh. He hopes that such an institution would be able to find out innovative and effective judicial system given the contexts like ours (where the British introduced and aged-old system has been failing to deliver justice).
In an event of SAILS, Professor Yubaraj Sangroula from Kathmandu School of Law, dreams of educational and intellectual integration in South Asia. He underscores the need of a new dimension of South Asian Law and Justice System which would render services to the poor. This would emerge through negotiating a new dimension of justice for the poor. He urged the young lawyers to serve the poor and continued to say: “Justice does not remain in a beautiful houses, it is under trees.” SAILS is to make this happen, he observes.
Dr. Kamal Hossain who chairs the Governing Council SAILS observes that law is an instrument for social change. “It [law] is an instrument to empowering the powerless, if it is properly understood, and could be effectively implemented,” he says at a function of SAILS on 28 June.
Professor N. R. Madhava Menon, a pioneer of global-standard legal education in India and Chairman of the Academic Committee of SAILS, observed that quality legal education in South Asian countries could bring in foreign exchanges for the region as well. “If we could produce international-standard law graduates they can acquire jobs in multinational agencies and law firms.” He also supports the idea of a SAARC-level Regional Law University. He hopes that such a University would come out with new scholarship and help in promoting peace and development in the region.
Professor Mizanur Rhaman, a visionary in human rights education in Bangladesh (and who has recently joined as the Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission) urged the lawyers to fight until human dignity is established and upheld given the social and other changes in the region of South Asia.
SAILS has started its journey with recently concluded two month-long training courses in Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Continuing Legal Education (CLE), first of its kind in the country (from 29 May to 29 June). A total of 36 participants- judges and lawyers were drawn from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Maldives.
The resource persons included renowned academics, jurists and legal practitioners from home and abroad. Resource Persons from abroad included Professor N. R. Madhava Menon of India, Dr. Yubaraj Sangroula, a Professor of Kathmandu School of Law in Nepal, Dr. Dave Hollnes from South Africa alongside Dr. Kamal Hossain, Professor Mizanur Rahman, Professor Shah Alam, Professor Zakir Hossain, Dr. Abdullah Al Faruque, and Dr. Sharif Bhuiyan among others from Bangladesh.
Appreciating the training programme organized by SAILS, a participant from Nepal, Mr. Mukesh Dhungana observes that this type of training would promote pro-people lawyering. He went on to say: “Pro-people lawyering could contribute to the Rule of Law.” Let us hope that the proposed Law University will move forward for the same cause”.
The writer is a Researcher and Practitioner specializing in International Human Rights Law. He is also an Advocate (Attorney at Law) in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. E-mail: email@example.com.