By Bernice Bessey & Sophia Prince
Professor Stephen Kwaku Asare, Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana) Democracy and Development Fellow and Law Professor with the University of Florida, has described the current legal education system in Ghana as a waiting time bomb.
The current legal education system, per his estimation, has denied as much as 5,000 Ghanaian students access to practice law.
Each year, students who had successfully pass their undergraduate law degrees at the various universities are shortlisted at the Ghana School of Law through a strenuous examination and interview conducted by the Ghana Legal Council.
According to Prof Kwaku Asare, the current legal education system in the country should be totally abolished, since it does not respond to the contemporary needs of the citizenry.
He strongly holds the opinion that the current legal education model is outmoded and kept afloat by entrenched stakeholders and regulators who oppose change, and have woefully failed to deploy technology to promote a more efficient delivery of so-called professional education.
Making a presentation at a CDD roundtable on the legal profession Amendment Bill, 2018 yesterday in Accra, he said the occasion to discuss such matters were long overdue, because “Legal education has been embroiled in controversy since 2012, when the Council issued a game-changing administrative fiat.”
Prof Kwaku Asare was of the view the Council running a school was not necessary, since all the professional courses could be handled by the various universities faculties, saying: “A closer look at the courses currently offered at the Ghana School of Law reveals that the courses are no more professional or less academic than those at the approved universities.”
He reiterated that the courses the Ghana School of Law could and should be offered by the universities approved by the Council.
He also described the proposed described Amendment Bill, especially Pupillage, as an extravagant requirement, since no mechanism would be put in place to ensure that foreign trained lawyers have technical proficiency in the Ghana legal systems and constitution.
Similarly, the clause in the provision is not either necessary for those lawyers who spend one year attending classes, nor fruitful that they complete Pupillage requirements before they can be admitted to practice in Ghana.
According to him, the requirement represents unnecessary barriers which primarily, if not for sole purpose, were to discourage lawyers trained in other countries to return to put their skills to use in the country at a time Ghana needs more lawyers to offer legal services to their communities.
He continued that the £6,000 fee being charged from such lawyers was exorbitant, and was consistent with the theory that it seeks to discourage these persons from entering the legal profession.
The systemic barriers also implied Ghanaian lawyers trained outside the country are being denied rather than to be protected from ill-prepared lawyers.
He debated that there was distinction between professional and academic education, urging that the legal education should be designed in a manner that would rather train lawyers to be critical thinkers.
The Law Professor wondered: “Are these quotas part of an inexplicable strategy to restrict the number of lawyers at a time when the country could benefit a surge in the supply of qualified lawyers?”
On the Independent Examination Committee (IEC), he said it lacked credibility, as it had already been involved in an examination leakage scandal in 2018, and had imposed an illegal supplementary examination following the leakage.
Defending why he described the ICE as lacking credibility, the Professor said, in 2019, about 80 percent of students who were able to raise the GH¢3,000 remarking fee ended up passing the examination after the remarking. “This unacceptable high grading error rate suggests that the whole grading by the IEC was unreliable.”
Mrs Clara Kasser-Tee, Legal Practitioner and CDD-Ghana Board Member, added that the country’s legal education should be liberalized, and the authorised universities be allowed to run the professional courses.
According to her, there was no disadvantage of have so many lawyers in the system, and also does not agree that Ghana Legal Council should run a school.