Image: The Supreme Court of Ghana has issued a ruling on legal education reform. Wikimedia Commons
The fact that the government has presented a new bill to reform the framework for legal training – and the profession – should therefore be good news. But the Legal Profession (Amendment) Bill 2018 does not fill all the gaps. And it has serious flaws.
The General Legal Council, the body responsible for overseeing the training of lawyers and enforcing standards of professional conduct and discipline, attempted to fill some of the gaps in the bill by introducing some amendments. These aim to modify the conditions of education and renewal of lawyers’ licenses, the entrance examination quotas and the establishment of an independent examination board. The proposed changes also include provisions to discipline legal practitioners.
In my opinion, the proposed changes will only make a bad situation worse. Fixing legal education in Ghana requires a more comprehensive amendment to the legislation of 1960. This requires a more complete overhaul of the Legal Profession Act, 1960 to take into account emerging trends in legal practice and education.
An outdated system
Since independence, only one institution has been responsible for the professional training of lawyers in Ghana: the Ghana School of Law. It welcomes law school graduates for a period of two years. He teaches what has been described as “professional courses”. These include matters such as civil procedure, criminal procedure and the law of evidence.
Until 2003, the University of Ghana was the only academic institution offering the Bachelor of Laws degree. But now there are more than 14 institutions producing thousands of law graduates. As a result, thousands of LLB graduates compete for limited places at the Ghana School of Law every year.
Overwhelmed by the numbers, the school set up a competition seven years ago to select candidates for admission. Its legal basis has been challenged in the Supreme Court of Ghana.
In addition, the General Council of Legal Affairs has introduced several changes in the professional training of law students. These include the length of time it takes students to study, the content of the program and the exam taken.
The bill that has been introduced has been developed to address these issues by amending the country’s existing legislation.
The proposed amendments to the bill can be summarized under three themes: the conditions of schooling and the renewal of legal licenses; entrance examination quotas; and the creation of the independent review committee.
Student : The amendment proposes to extend schooling from six months to 12 months. The reason is laudable. The idea is to provide adequate training in law firms. But it is an old-fashioned idea that reduces the work of the lawyer to “chambers”, thus excluding corporate legal departments and university law schools. In addition, the term “chambers” is not defined in the law.
Any modification of the pupillage rules must take into account not only the duration but also the place of performance. This will solve the problem of cramming the pupils into the few active and functional rooms and reducing them to “suitcase pullers” and “file carriers”.
Annual renewal of a lawyer license: A new requirement is that lawyers must complete 12 hours of continuing legal education programs and provide legal aid services. These activities are good ideas, but they should not be a prerequisite for renewing a lawyer license. This is because the scope of these programs is not defined by the bill.
Entrance exam: This amendment includes proposals for quotas, entrance exams and the creation of an independent review committee.
The proposal is that quotas be allocated by the General Legal Council to universities. In my opinion, this is unnecessary interference in the affairs of law schools. This is because there is no uniform provision for the distribution between public and private schools.
In addition, the system for managing a professional law program outside of law schools is not sustainable. Indeed, the distinction between procedural law and substantive law is artificial. Procedural law includes the rules by which a court hears and determines what happens in civil, judicial, criminal or administrative proceedings. Substantive law refers to the actual claim and defense, the validity of which is tested by the procedures of procedural law.
It is more advantageous for the teaching of law that the students learn together the substance and the procedure. The various law schools have the staff and space to effectively deliver professional law courses. This will help to erase the misplaced distinction between “practice” and “university”.
Related to all of this is the imposition of an entrance exam and interviews. Because only one institution is accredited for professional certification, this has created a multitude of problems. These include a backlog of thousands of applicants, allegations of leaked exams and the use of admission protocols.
Decentralize vocational training
One suggestion would be that the General Legal Council, which administers legal education, pilot the devolution of professional law courses to law schools. The modalities could be worked out with the universities.
If legal advice and parliament insist that the current approach to training lawyers is the best, then some key issues need to be addressed first:
The current composition of the independent review panel will need to change. It cannot continue to have only judges and practitioners on it. It needs former deans and directors of legal education and senior academics from various law schools whose expertise in the administration of legal education could be invaluable.
Under the proposed provisions, the General Legal Council has the power to order the Office of the Judicial Secretary to remove lawyers from the roll without a disciplinary investigation. This means suspending the lawyer’s license to practice. This flouts the legal principle that no one should be tried without a fair trial.
Ghana does not need to graft these proposed amendments onto the 1960 legislation. What the country needs is a complete reform of the legal profession and administration.
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.