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August 22, 2004

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Legal education system in Bangladesh

Sheikh Hafizur Rahman Karzon & Md. Zahurul Haq

The existing legal education in Bangladesh does not sufficiently correspond to the needs of the nation, and hence it requires review and reform. The discussants in a Roundtable on the Review of the Legal Education System in Bangladesh underlined the necessity of recasting the existing legal education. The Roundtable was arranged by the Law Commission in collaboration with Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) on July 8 in the Hall Room of the Judicial Administrative Training Institute (JATI). The Round Table was presided over and moderated by Justice A.T.M. Afzal, Chairman of the Law Commission and Ex-Chief Justice of Bangladesh. Eminent Academics, Lawyers, and Judges of the country were present in the Roundtable.

Brief Outcome of the Round Table
Dr. M. Shah Alam, Professor, Department of Law, Chittagong University, presented a Background Paper on the Legal Education System in Bangladesh. He raised different issues relating to the legal education. First Dr. Alam shed light on the objectives of legal education and said that, the objectives of legal education have not been precisely laid down anywhere. He said that, immediate objective of legal education is to produce law graduates equipped with the knowledge of substantive and procedural laws, capable of taking active parts in the traditional justice delivery system. He also emphatically said that, if law is considered an instrument of social change, the law graduates' role cannot be confined to law-making, law-enforcing, and law-reform only, they should bring justice to the doorsteps of the people.

About the nature of legal education, Dr. Alam said that, the law schools of USA have combined academic and vocational programmes into their legal education. The legal education in UK is purely academic, which is followed by institutional vocational programmes for those who want to join Bar. In Bangladesh, Dr.Alam said, we failed to combine academic and vocational programmes into the curriculum of the legal education, and we do not have sufficient institutional arrangements to give vocational training to the lawyers and judges. He suggested both the steps to be taken for elevating the quality of law graduates and law professionals.

When discussing about Law College education, Professor Shah Alam said that, Law Colleges are not sufficiently equipped to produce quality law graduates. He said that, mere making the Law College courses three-year will not serve the purpose, because the colleges are part-time colleges with part-time teachers and students. With part-time institutions, everything being part-time, we are giving the nations majority lawyers and judges. It is not a healthy sign for the judiciary.

Dr Shah Alam said that, acquiring legal knowledge becomes a life-long professional and intellectual pursuit, which underlies the need for continuing legal education for lawyers as well as judges. He mentioned that the Judicial Administrative Training Institute (JATI) is giving training to the judges of the subordinate judiciary, and Bangladesh Bar Council has introduced Bar Vocational Courses as requirements for enrolment in the Bar. But training of the junior lawyers is still far from being sufficiently addressed. Their training needs to be institutionalised on national scale, he said emphatically.

Dr. Shah Alam said that, bilingual hazards in legal education and in legal profession are well-known in Bangladesh. Only the private universities have opted for unilingual system making English the sole medium of instruction, he mentioned. Recognising the dominant position of English in legal education and legal profession in common law countries and its importance in international transactions and technology, Dr. Alam took stand for Bengali. He argued that mother tongue is the most effective way of teaching and learning. When we speak of taking law and justice to the door-steps of general people, can there be any better alternative to mother tongue?

Advocate A.F. Hassan Arif, Attorney General of Bangladesh, said that, there are practical problems in introducing Bangla. Because the Corporate Laws, Commercial Laws need to be in English. Our government is asking for foreign investment. The foreigners must have first hand knowledge about the laws that we have. He suggested that English authentic version of enacted laws simultaneously may also be legislated. He said that, we require a National Body comprising people from all the existing organizations. They will work together to ensure uniformity in curriculum, teaching methodology, examination system, reading materials. They will work to elevate the quality of legal education, so that ultimately after a passage of time we have a common legal education system.

Barrister Amir-Ul-Islam, senior advocate of the Supreme Court, spelled out three categorical imperatives of legal education. Those are: analytical ability, communicating skill, and ethics. The objective of law education, Barrister Islam said, should be to equip the students with these three skills. He said that, a law graduate must know good English as law is no longer national, it is international.

Justice Hamidul Haque, Director General of the Judicial Administrative Training Institute, said that, language of law should be English, because most of the laws and statutes are in English. If students are not conversant with the authentic version of the law text (most of those are in English), they cannot understand law properly.

Barrister Shafiq Ahmed, Ex-President of the Supreme Court Bar Association and Advocate of the Supreme Court, said that, bulk of the law graduates are coming from the Law Colleges, where deterioration has taken place. Law being a professional subject, he raised his voice and continued, like medicine and engineering, there should not be any third class. In Medical, Engineering and Chartered Accountancy the pass number is 50%, why 36% in law? He asked and informed that, most of the law graduates from the Colleges pass in the third class. He identified this as a reason for degradation of the Law College education and proposed third class should be immediately abolished.

Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Professor, Department of Law, Dhaka University, said that, legal education of this country must be justice education geared to the empowerment of the poor people of this country. So, the curriculum that does not address the issues of poverty should not be the curriculum of the law schools in this country. Legal education in Bangladesh must be a socially responsive legal education. He said that, legal education cannot be cent per cent academic, nor it can be cent per cent vocational or practice oriented. There must be, Dr. Rahman continued, a balance of both the two and it requires combined effort of the Law Faculties and the Bar Council.

Dr. Naima Haque, Dean, Faculty of Law, Dhaka University, said that, law Colleges require constant monitoring, because with part-time institutions we cannot expect quality law graduates.

Dr Borhanuddin Khan, Associate Professor, Department of Law, Dhaka University, said that, by and large the university degrees are supposed to be academic. He pointed out that, only around 10-20% law students of public universities go to legal profession and others do something else. If we design the curriculum considering the needs of the lawyers only, we shall miss the main focus.

Morshed Mahmud Khan, Dean, Faculty of Law, Chittagong University, said that law graduates should be sensetized to human rights, empowerment of women and other development issues of the nation.

Evaluating the Roundtable Discussion
All the relevant issues like the existing curriculum, teaching methodology, examination system, reading materials, continuing legal education, medium of instruction were discussed in the Roundtable and the discussants opined to review those to cope with the changing national and international needs. The discussants were in unison for restructuring the whole system of Law College education. They also advocated for an admission test, age bar for admission into Law Colleges and provision of second-class number (45%) as pass number.

A law graduate in Bangladesh, even after completing his/her law education, is not sufficiently capable to join the Bar or Bench. All the participants in the Roundtable underscored the necessity of vocational training and continuing legal education for the Judges, Lawyers, Teachers, and Law Professionals.

Legal education has been facing confusion as to what should be the medium of instruction. This issue was placed for discussion in the Roundtable and all the academics, judges, and lawyers gave their judicious opinion. Most of them opted for English, while some of them were in favour of Bengali, but not at the expense of English.

Almost all the discussants were unanimous in taking initiative to introduce Law in the S.S.C. and H.S.C. level. They said that basic conception of law must be given to every student at the secondary and higher secondary level. They also expressed their consent to establish a National Body to monitor the institutional activities and individual activities of the teachers and students.

Concluding Remark
The ultimate purpose of the legal education is to ensure greater social justice, and promote national development. The whole legal education system in Bangladesh should be restructured for achieving those goals.

Writers are conducting a research on the Legal Education System in Bangladesh under the auspices of the Bangladesh Law Commission.

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