The PPP had promised in the 2013 manifesto that they would improve the quality of legal education and training for lawyers.
Just like any other discipline, legal education has also been given free reign to grow. While a burgeoning legal community is something to be proud of, however, sans quality the end product leaves society more burdened with incompetent and ineffective legal machinery. A lawyer is a reflection of the legal system, it’s where he gains education and practices law. Likewise, a developed and sophisticated legal system not only protects people from harmful practices but it also provides a mechanism for restorative justice.
The responsibility to advance and protect a responsible legal system falls on the shoulders of law colleges. The law colleges are bound to make sure that their students become aware of the complexity of the legal system, so that the community the lawyer serves adheres to and respects the law.
The quality of legal education has been compromised in Pakistan with the consequence that universities had been granting affiliation to ‘ghost law’ colleges. The anomalies in education imparted at law colleges, such as dated curriculum, inexperienced teachers and lack of research emanates from the problems afflicting the primary and higher education systems of Pakistan. The system lays emphasis on rote learning over concept building, scoring marks over analytical skills, and memorizing text over critical thinking.
Another area of concern that has gravely affected the quality of education in law is the medium of instruction, which is English. Apart from a handful of students who could afford private schools offering English medium education, the majority of students joining law colleges in Pakistan come from public schools and colleges where English as a medium of language is neither properly adopted, nor taught professionally. The legal system of Pakistan, however, uses the English language as a medium of instruction. Our entire jurisprudence is informed by references to foreign sources.
The dearth of research and academic discourse has kept Pakistan far behind the legal system followed internationally. The paucity of quality research in law can be deciphered from the fact that there is only one local law journal, ‘The Journal of Law and Society’ recognized by the Higher Education Commission of Pakistan. The University of Peshawar takes out the journal.
Lately, Pakistan Bar Council attempted to reform legal education in Pakistan by introducing the Legal Education Rules, 2015. This new system abolished three years law education and required a five-year law degree. Under the Legal Education Rules 2015, the number of students to be admitted to the first year of LLB was restricted to 100. Evening classes were stopped. Candidates applying for the degree should not be more than 24 years on the closing date for the submission of application form.
The experts, however, say that the Legal Education Rules 2015 is not much different from the old 1978 Rules. The provision of five per cent seats reserved for the children of advocates has been carried forward, which the right wrong activists view as discriminatory with no parallel in other degree programs.
Passing marks are also the same as were under the 1978 Rules; forty per cent in the individual exam and 50 per cent aggregate.
There is no guideline for the improvement of legal scholarship offered in the local LLB programme, for producing quality research and on how to make law education in Pakistan attractive for the brilliant students to enter the field.
Of late, the term ‘wukla-gardi has been coined to categorize violence portrayed by lawyers. The members of the lawyer’s fraternity are often found scuffling amongst themselves, and in extreme cases, were found throwing tantrums at the judges hearing their cases or otherwise. We also have examples where lawyers had helped criminals accused of murder escape from the premises of court.
Former Governor Punjab, Latif Khosa, who belongs to Pakistan People’s Party, gave his viewpoint to Truth Tacker on why the lawyer fraternity has fallen from grace. Although he agreed that the government has failed to bring about visible reforms in the quality of legal education, he put the onus of improving legal education and lawyers’ behaviour on the Bar Councils of Pakistan. “It is the responsibility of the Bar Councils to bring reforms in the legal education and bring it at par with the international standard.” “Unfortunately,” Khosa continued, “We as a nation have not learned to work above self-interest.” He further added, “Bar Councils and the lawyers are more interested in protecting the interest of their political parties, vote banks or the Mafias they give legal assistance to.”
Khosa said that the black coat a lawyer wears was not just a piece of cloth, it carried honour and prestige. He explained that whenever a lawyer indulges in inappropriate behaviour, not only is he tarnishing his own image, but also that of his profession and community.
“The Supreme is divided over the issue of whether Urdu or English should be used as a medium of instruction in Courts. Barring a few judges, no one even writes the judgment in Urdu, and even that becomes difficult for the lawyers and others to understand.” Khosa said.
Khosa agreed that because of the low standard of legal education and lack of training, some unaware people have joined the lawyer’s community. “These so-called lawyers,” Khosa said, “were non-serious and unaware of the responsibility that their profession laid upon them. “
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf’s spokesperson, Fawad Choudhary, told Truth Tracker that it was in the 80’s and 90’s that the level of legal education went down. “First, the medium of instruction was made Urdu,” he recalled, “during Ziaul Haq’s times. Later, it returned to English, which not only created confusion among the students but also made a joke out of the education system.”
“There is a huge number of non-professional lawyers. Their sole aim is to participate in politics, which they do on the back of Bar Councils,” Chaudhry said. He further added that no serious and professional lawyer was found involved in bar activities, knowing that bars in Pakistan did nothing substantial.
Talking about the responsibility of the Pakistan Bar Council towards reforming the standard of legal education, Chaudhry said, “The PBC failed to do so because it did not have the capacity to carry out such a sensitive and academic activity.”
Advocate Pakistan Supreme Court, Mian Asghar, said that the legal education in Pakistan had been affected due to two reasons. Firstly, the mushroom growth of law colleges. Secondly, the lack of oversight on the performance of law colleges that inadvertently allowed them to violate rules. He said that there were law colleges in Pakistan opened in two room apartments. While talking to Truth Tracker, he divulged that there were many law colleges in Lahore that had opened their franchises in small towns where they enticed students to join the legal profession, which would bring them to Lahore or other metropolitan cities. Asghar added: “In most cases, these students are given a law degree even if they do not attend the full course.”
“This situation could only improve if all those law colleges giving sub-standard education were shut down. The Lahore High Court has heard a petition on this, and a decision is awaited,” he said.
“The Pakistan Bar Council should require a renewal of licenses every three or four years on the basis of the character and performance of the lawyers,” Asghar said.
The PPP has not been able to improve the quality of education in Sindh where it has been in power for the last eight years. Their promise stands broken.