South Asian Law University
A move towards quality education
Dr. Uttam Kumar Das
DURING my recently completed Hubert H. Humphrey Fellowship Program (2009-2010) in the United States, I have taken every opportunity to visit different Law Schools, talk to Faculties, and to observe and monitor how those institutions do operate.
Apart from my host institution, the University of Minnesota Law School and Human Rights Center in Minneapolis, I have visited some other Law Schools and talked to respective faculties, staff members and students.
Visiting those institutions, I do see how productive and efficient the students could make them during their time in Law Schools (i.e., three years for the Juris Doctor or JD and one year for LL.M. program).
During the School year, a student could explore his or her interest and skill, take the full advantage of the available scholarship and resources, and decide accordingly whether one would join the public service, pro bono legal or human rights work/organisation, or go to practicing law. Potential employers would come to the School to hire graduates through their announcements or participating in job fairs.
In the University of Minnesota Law School, there are 18 Legal Clinics covering the issues ranging from International Business Law to Human Rights Litigation; those serve 'live-clients.' Students are to work with Clinics as part of their respective courses. Students could even appear in the Courts for clients under the supervision of a Clinical Law Professor.
There is at least one full-time Clinical Faculty each Clinic. There are donations or endowments to run such Clinics. Even private individuals (former law students or their descendents) and organisations provide funding to establish and run Legal Clinics. Other Faculty Positions are also funded in the same ways.
There are three full-fledged and well-equipped Court Rooms. The Supreme Court of the State of Minnesota holds their sessions in the Law School on scheduled dates to allow students to observe the proceedings and ask questions thereafter. The Chief Justice, other related Judges and respective Attorneys would come down to the School to participate in the real proceedings. In other cases, students would visit trail courts.
I found the student organisations (total 56 for 800 students) busy with so many activities over a semester (other than destructive activities like here in Bangladesh). For example, if the Chapter of Amnesty International brings a renowned Law Professor from another Law School to speak on a timely issue, the International Law Society or Asylum Law Project would bring an internationally-reputed activities or practitioner to address the students on another topic. Students do publish journals on time serving as Chief Editors.
The Mission of this University of Minnesota Law School is to provide “high quality legal education.” It wants to achieve this through “… contributing substantially to knowledge of the legal order through the publication and other dissemination of scholarship, and … providing discipline-related public service to the University, the state, the nation, and the international community, and to the legal profession in those fields in which it has a special expertise.”
Though we have around 20 Law Schools or Departments affiliated with public or private universities, however, the standard of the curriculum, teaching methodology, scholarship of the respective faculties (of course with few exceptions), research and publications, available resources to students and faculties, and overall the quality of the graduating students are not beyond questions. The same goes about the quality of the graduates coming out of Private Law Colleges.
Therefore, this is the high time to look into quality of legal education in Bangladesh to having a global standard. Given the globalisation, expansion of international corporation and business, and ever expanding human rights and humanitarian crisis there are growing need of quality law graduates.
Upon my return to Dhaka in June, I have noticed a significant progress in this regard and it comes to realisation of a dream of having a South Asian Law University in Bangladesh. This has been initiated under the banner of the already established South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS).
SAILS has recently concluded two month-long training courses on the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Continuing Legal Education (CLE), first of its kind in the country. The participants- judges and lawyers were drawn from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives.
Definitely there is need and all potentially for such an institution.
Dr. Kamal Hossain in his speech said, “Its an instrument to empowering the powerless, if it is properly understood, and could be effectively implemented,” he said. The internationally acclaimed Jurist urges the participants of the courses not to be lawyers obsessed of earning more money, but to serve the powerless and helpless in the respective society.
Barrister Shafique Ahmed, Minister for Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs of the Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh assures all out supports from his government in establishing a Law University in Bangladesh. He blames the aged old judicial system inherited from the British for failing to deliver justice. That is why the government has introduced ADR to reduce backlog of cases. “ADR could save time and money,” the Law Minister observes.
Professor N. R. Madhava Menon, a pioneer of global-standard legal education in India observes that a quality legal education in South Asian countries could bring foreign exchanges for the region as well. “If we could produce international-standard law graduates they could grab jobs in the multinational, international agencies and law firms.”
Dr. Menon starts his mission with the National Law School of India University in Bangalore, India. He also supports the idea of a SAARC-level Regional Law University. He hopes that such a University would come out with new scholarship and help in promoting peace and development in the region. Being a promoter for a quality legal and human rights education, I do foresee that the proposed Law University would produce graduates having new scholarship and morale among other qualities. They could contribute to establishing the Rule of Law and Accountability in the society. That is necessary for a healthy and democratic society and ensuring human rights for all.
The writer is a Researcher and Practitioner specializing in International Human Rights Law.