Legal education in Bangladesh
Problems and prospects
Dr. M. Ashrafuzzaman
I think knowledgeable persons from the society should come forward to discuss the problems in legal education and seek possible solutions to the problems. I would like to look into the matter from a different perspective. I believe threat of cancellation of affiliation of a university is just not a proper solution; rather there should be supportive measures from government and non-government sectors.
Need for private universities
Establishment of a university is a tough job. Lots of sacrifices, dedication and tolerance are needed. But there is no doubt that we need universities. However, there is doubt amongst us that whether the public universities are sufficient to cope with the growing number of students seeking higher education. If we concentrate our attention on the faculty of law, we see that there are four public universities in our country with law as a regular subject of teaching. Besides, the National University imparts teaching of law through law colleges. All four universities together could accommodate less than five hundred students per annum. If we take that all of them eventually complete the courses then we get 500 regular law graduates in a year. For a country with 150 million people this figure is unacceptable. On the other hand National University's role in making lawyers is limited to a certificate awarding body rather than a law institution. So, the quality of graduates from National University varies enormously among themselves, let alone any possible comparison with others.
If we compare the situation with UK, where the population is about 1/3 of ours, there are 53 public and one private university with law faculty. From those universities every year come out about 8,000 graduates. Moreover the external programme of London University or Open University also produces about 1,000 law graduates every year.
a. Role of Bangladesh Bar Council: The Bar Council is the regulatory authority for the legal profession in this country. It has changed few times its procedure of enrolment. However, its role as a quality controller may not be beyond question. The Bar Council through its Legal Education and Training Institute has attempted to establish itself also as an educational institute, although it does not have such expertise. It however could arrange re-educating seminars for the practitioners rather than trying to establish courses for the new admitants. Bangladesh Bar Council could follow examples of UK, Australia or USA. Their Bar Councils have given permission to several universities to conduct pre-admission training for the legal practitioners. Also, the Bar Council could set a detailed guideline regarding the syllabuses. At present all universities follow their unique syllabuses and sometimes there is lack of minimum similarities. Also, there are institutions teaching law without a proper library or even a proper teacher. The Bar Council must ensure the teaching environments not only in universities but also other institutions producing larger number of lawyers.
b. Role of government: The government does not have any control over the legal education in Bangladesh. There are cases where a law graduate never attended any formal class. This is the only profession in the country where there is no realistic professional conduct rules. Everyone seems concerned that the standard of legal profession has fallen but there is no initiative from government to maintain the standard let alone raise is.
c. Role of universities: Universities having law faculties are like individual islands. They do not have real co-ordination with one another. There is almost a hostile relationship between public and private universities. Also, the universities do not have minimum connection needed with other legal institutions i.e. judiciary, bar council. In UK the Bar, the bench and the universities act together for the legal education as this is very much a practical subject. There is no medical college in this country without a hospital and so in the legal profession a student could never become a lawyer without having a real courtroom experience. Some private universities deserve an applaud for the efforts that are being made to raise the standard of teaching in legal education and to reward excellence in teaching. Everyone should welcome the emphasis being placed upon the development of close links between universities in the country and outside.
We note the emphasis being placed upon a new qualification, “the collaboration degree”. We can see ways in which such degrees can play an important role in providing a new opening for higher education to those who could not afford to go to UK to become a Barrister to raise standards in respect of provision of legal services. However, we believe that the development of these degrees must not lead to any diminution of standards in respect of the undergraduate honours degree as we note the government's commitment to safeguarding the standards of traditional honours degree.
The problems have been very carefully identified and its solutions have been collected from other countries that faced similar problems in establishing university to teach law. All proper legal education systems cited above have a long history behind their establishment. We are lucky that we can follow the good things from their examples. Now, this is time to consider and act.
The author is Asst Professor and Head, Department of Law, Northern University, Bangladesh.