Reviewing our legal education
Dr. M. Shah Alam
Not long ago, Law Commi-ssion of Bangladesh in collaboration with CIDA Legal Reform Project Part A, undertook a review of legal education in Bangladesh under a pilot project. Judges, lawyers, law teachers, law students, members of the civil society, representatives of the private sector, professional groups as well as various legal institutions throughout the country were consulted in various ways. They all underscored the need for reforms of legal education and the comprehensive discussion paper was prepared under the project. The paper critically analysed and evaluated the present state of legal education in the country, attempted to identify its problems and made recommendations for their resolution. It is believed the Law Commission will further work on them to precisely formulate the recommendations and propose necessary legislative action for their implementation. I was privileged to be associated with the work of the project. May I share below some of my views on legal education with the readers of The Daily Star.
Considering that legal education has immense impact on the quality of judiciary and on the rule of law in various spheres of national life, and that the present state of legal education in Bangladesh does not sufficiently respond to the needs of modern society and economy, its reforms have become a national need. Our law curriculum, teaching methodology and institutions that provide legal education have generally remained where they were decades ago, incapable of producing law graduates that our nation needs to cope with its enormous problems.
First of all, objectives of legal education need to be clearly defined. It is not only principles and provisions of law and legal system that legal education needs to provide, it must also emphasise justice and social value of law. It is not only to prepare professionally qualified skilful lawyers and judges with sound substantive and procedural knowledge of law, it is to commit the law to the service of the people, to facilitate their access to justice. Law has a great social engineering role to play for poverty alleviation, redistribution of national wealth and protection of rights of the marginalised sections of the people. These objectives of law ought to be reflected in the curriculum, teaching methodology and motivation of the law students and teachers.
Law is a practical social science. Therefore, both academic and vocational nature of legal education is important. There is a great need to combine these aspects of law to create opportunities to provide quality legal education. In Bangladesh academic aspect of legal education predominates with the result that methods of teaching law are mostly lecture-based. It is necessary to emphasise the need for practical methods of teaching law i.e. socratic method, problem method, case study, moot-court and mock trial, clinical legal education etc. For would be lawyers introduction Bar Vocational Course (BVC) for one year to qualify them to sit for bar examination merits serious consideration.
In Bangladesh there are two separate streams of legal education, first, private law college based two-year post-graduate course and the other is four-year undergraduate LL.B. (Hons.) course provided by law faculties of public universities. Recently, private universities have also started to open law faculties for LL.B. (Hons.) courses. There exists wide gap in the quality of legal education imparted in the law colleges and in the public universities. Poor quality of education in the law colleges is stet lack of funds, absence of government control as well as financial assistance, infrastructural inadequacy, lack of academic facilities, poor management, absence of full-time teaching staff, irregularity in admission and examination of students, and poor monitoring and control by affiliating National University, besides host of other factors. These factors very negatively tell on the curriculum, teaching methodology and performance of the students in the examination. Picture in the public universities may be better, but they also need major reforms for upgrading curriculum and teaching methodology as well as for endowing the students with social and ethical values of law.
Under prevailing historical and socio-economic conditions, it may not be advisable or even possible to do away with or to unify the separate streams of legal education, and go for either post-graduate stream as prevailing in the law colleges or undergraduate stream in the universities for awarding first degree of law. Both streams can continue to run. However, they, specially, college legal education the need to be improved and their gap narrowed down.
Since law is an all, pervading and all-embracing discipline and law graduates are expected to work in important sectors of national life including judiciary, and to underline special responsibility of the law graduates before the society, inter-disciplinary approach in legal education needs to be emphasised. Besides incorporating new branches of legal science relating to ICT, e-commerce and globalisation, fundamentals of economics, political science, sociology, history need to be incorporated in the curriculum. ADR, specially court sponsored mediation presents new hope for our justice delivery system. Law schools need to include ADR in their curriculum and devote more time to its study and research to further explore its potentials. Law curriculum also needs to put more emphasis on social and ethical values of law.
Our legal education needs to seriously explore the potentials of clinical legal education to reap its diverse benefits. This North American concept of clinical legal education if carefully adapted to our conditions can bring positive and practically significant change in teaching law and to serve the purpose of law in Bangladesh. Clinical legal education is learning by doing. It is experiential learning. It is not merely practical method of teaching and learning law, it is also providing service to the people. When young students at the formative stage of their career are exposed to community legal services, they get sensitised to the problems and need specially of the marginalised sections of the people and feel motivated to continue to work for them when they enter professional life.
Research in law provides 'critical intellectual guidance to the study of law'. Legal research is an essential condition for legal scholarship. Legal scholarship defines and identifies links between law and individuals, law and society, law and development, law and politics. Without quality research and legal scholarship, it is virtually impossible to speak of quality legal education. In our seats of higher legal learning research is a much neglected area. This needs to be taken care of.
Legal ethics as a separate course is almost non-existent in our curriculum. The very purpose of legal education and profession could be frustrated by the lack of ethical values. Ethical value is not divorced from professional or social value. Human rights and gender issues also need to be sufficiently reflected in our curriculum.
Globalisation is leading the states to look beyond national horizon of law. Inter-dependence of states, massive international transactions at both public and private levels and emergence of innumerable common issues and problems have rendered transnational approach to law inevitable. International trade and foreign investment accompanied by rapid cross-border mobility of capital, labour and services have led to transnational or global legal practice, which is likely to be more frequent in the coming years. These developments have not been sufficiently reflected in our legal education, neither in curriculum, nor in teaching methodology, nor in the attitude of providers of legal education. Our curriculum continues to centre around traditional subjects of national law, and our judges and lawyers are averse to application of international law in domestic courts. Reluctant and less attentive attitude of our judges and lawyers towards international law are greatly explained by lack of transnational components of legal education in Bangladesh.
Academically sound and vocationally skilful law graduates would make great human resource for various sectors of our national development. Many of them would not become lawyers and judges, nor the bar and bench can absorb all of them. Legal knowledge, both substantive and procedural, along with inter-disciplinary experience and motivation and vision of legal education of those graduates who would decide not to become judges and lawyers, would need to be employed for services other than judiciary and legal practice, where their specialised knowledge of law would be required. It would be most appropriate and desirable to create job opportunities for them where they would be better able to apply their specialised knowledge. Given that law graduates have received modern and socially relevant legal education, their knowledge ought to be used and applied to the needs of the nation in various government, semi-government, autonomous, non-government and private sectors. It is recommended that the government create a separate service, consisting of law graduates who will have to qualify in competitive examination to be conducted by the Public Service Commission. Members of this cadre service, called legal service, or BCS (legal) in distinction from judicial service, would be employed at various ministries, government and semi-government agencies to deal with legal issues.
Bar Council's role in providing quality legal education needs to be enhanced. Its powers and functions need to be comprehensively increased in respect of creation and maintenance of standards of legal education in curriculum development, teaching methodology, evaluation and award of degrees. Bar council ought to have power to de-accredit law schools in case of non-compliance with its requirements. Representation of legal academics in the legal education committee of the Bar Council will need to be increased. Legal education committee of the Bar Council in collaboration with the legal education committee of the University Grants Commission (proposed to be formed) would exercise overall monitoring and controlling power over law schools.
The author is Professor of law University of Chittagong, presently working with Stamford University Bangladesh.