In Courts the legal fraternity would bow its head and concede that all actions should be in accordance with law; yet this verbose on many occasions has not been put to practice and there is a growing tendency to take law in our own hands. There have been growing and repetitive incidents where the police, ordinary citizens and even the honorable judges have been at the receiving end (irrespective of who was at fault) of the legal fraternity.
Therefore, this sad incident at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology although inconceivable did not come to me as a surprise. This pugnacious attitude may have various reasons, but to me the following are the reasons that are primarily responsible for decline in values and ethics in the legal profession:
(1) Legal Education
Professional legal education burdens the education provider with the onerous responsibility in equipping the student with such tools through which life and property of a citizen of the country are to be protected.
This education should familiarize the student with the law, the basic and current judicial precedents of superior courts, procedure of the courts and last but not least the ethics and morals that a lawyer must instill in himself and never let go in his career; sadly, our legal education system does not cater for any of these things.
In almost all foreign jurisdictions, the emphasis in law exams is on problem questions, that have to be solved by identifying the issues, stating the law/precedents, giving arguments and concluding the answer. This develops analytical skills, research capabilities and class participation.
Understandably the prospective and the sitting office holders are reluctant to go against the tide and take action against the miscreants if it effects their electoral prospects
A student will have to know the latest precedents to answer the questions and would develop his analytical skills. As a practice stretching over decades, these examination papers carry the same questions that have been repeated in earlier examinations and a brief calculation of common questions makes a question bank of 10-15 such questions for each paper.
Thus a student needs only to memorize these 10-15 questions for each paper. The legal education revolves around use of “guides” by the student that are freely available in the shape of small pamphlets.
Their contents are extremely sub-standard and are available for every subject and carry “answers” to these 10-15 examination questions. Over decades of unchecked practice, these “guides” have become the text-books of law being used by a large majority of students. The 10-15 common questions are memorized by the students from these “guides” and are reproduced in the examination.
Astonishingly, the student passes the examination and over time, these guides have become a gateway to success in examinations. The use of these guides has other far-reaching effects for legal education. The students do not read statutes or reference books, they do not have the need to go to the library or do research, and students do not have to attend the classes so there are very few students in attendance in a class.
The judges, lawyers and teachers being produced are a product of this dreadful system. Distressingly, this is not a secret and every stakeholder is aware of this predicament, yet they turn a blind eye to it. Painfully, more recent development are the “guides” for civil judges and additional session judges available for their judicial examinations; and are presented in all their glory on banners displayed outside the honorable Lahore High Court, Lahore and office of the Punjab Bar Council.
This education system produces lawyers who get through the exams without much hard work and are not equipped to handle legal situations and hence a downward trend is being witnessed in professional and ethical competencies.
(2) Non-existence of Standards of Legal Education
The Pakistan Bar Council Legal Education Rules, 2015 (“Rules”) regulate legal education in law colleges, both constituent and affiliated. Rule 34 of the Ruled states that ‘standard of legal education’ shall be laid down by the Pakistan Bar Council and the directions issued by the Pakistan Bar Council, the Higher Education Commission and/or the University shall be complied by the law college.
A student will have to know the latest precedents to answer the questions and would develop his analytical skills
To date no such standards have been laid down by the Pakistan Bar Council and there is no evidence to of any related directions having been issued by the Higher Education Commission or the concerned University.
Moreover, under the Rules, the law colleges have to comply with certain specification in terms of building requirements, library facilities, medium of instruction, fee concessions, etc.; but lack the substance and essence of legal education i.e. methodology of teaching and examination. The powers that be realize but turn a blind eye to the fact that size of building may not matter if quality education is being provided; and what good is an ample library if it is not being used.
(3) The Licensing System
The Bar Councils regulate the legal profession and it is their foremost duty to check the competency of the new entrants. The Punjab Bar Council grants the initial/basic license to prospective lawyers enabling them to practice in the lower courts.
The Law Colleges, produce thousands of law graduates ever year and a safe estimate suggests that by and large 3000-4000 thousand (if not more) join the legal profession in Punjab every year by successfully qualifying for the bar exams.
The licensing systems in other countries are quite stringent and tough standards are to be met before a license is issued to a candidate to practice law. As an example: For clearing the New York Bar exam, the candidates study for 6-8 months and may not clear the Bar exam in the first go.
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In sharp contrast, there is practically no bar to enter into the legal profession except an entry exam which is highly uncompetitive. Earlier the licensing system was conducted by the Punjab Bar Council, and a few years back, the Punjab Bar Council conceded that it did not have the capacity to conduct these exams and outsourced it to the Higher Education Commission.
The exam is in the shape of multiple-choice questions and a question bank is available in shape of a booklet out of exam is to be conducted. The high success rate is evidence of the fact that the entrance exam is also a farce resulting in a huge influx of lawyers every year, who are a product of the incompetent legal education system.
(4) Role of Bar Councils
The elections to the bar councils are regularly held and as in all democracies the votes are counted and not weighed. Understandably the prospective and the sitting office holders are reluctant to go against the tide and take action against the miscreants if it effects their electoral prospects.
The elections are held on basis of issues that crop up or are made to crop up for that election year. These issues hardly involve the basic issues related to the legal profession like legal training, legal education, steps to ensure speedy dispensation of justice etc. In fact to the contrary, there is now a culture of observing strikes by the bar councils so the lawyers do not appear before the Courts; an unthinkable action anywhere in the world.
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This without doubt is one of the major hurdle in early disposal of cases and the suffering of ordinary litigant is unimaginable. I would postulate there must be other ways to show dissent than to observe strikes and bring the entire judicial system to a screeching halt.
I am sure the regulators realize the portentous threat in front of us as a legal fraternity, yet if they act as the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand, we are certainly fast moving away from the gentlemanly values and ideal democratic norms that the lawyers claim to be fabled for.
The legal fraternity is at a crossroad; either we set things right or the legal fraternity and the legal system of this Country is destined for disaster. The Bar Councils, Universities and Higher Education Commission must understand the gravity of the situation and take immediate action to improve this predicament.
Ahmed Hasan Khan is an Advocate of Supreme Court of Pakistan.
The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.