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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 190
October 16, 2010

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Law interview

Legal education must be brought out of the four walls

Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, is an outspoken academic and activist for the cause of promotion and protection of human rights. Originally a Professor with expertise in International Law at the Department of Law, University of Dhaka has pioneered in the human rights education in Bangladesh and beyond through his innovative Human Rights Summer School model of legal learning, a two-week course for university law students. This year the programme would have its 11th event in December which is being organised under the auspices of the Empowerment Through Law of the Common People (ELCOP), a training and advocacy organization initiated by Dr. Rahman himself. Recently, Dr. Rahman has been honoured with the “Professor N. R. Madhava Menon Best Law Teacher in the SAARC Region Award 2010”. Dr. Uttam Kumar Das has talked with him on various issues of legal education and human rights.

Uttam Kumar Das (UKD): What is your view on the legal education in Bangladesh?
Dr. Mizanur Rahman (MR): The legal education in Bangladesh is a disoriented one. There is no concrete perspective for the sector. There is no coordination of activities- who is doing what and why with regard to the legal and judicial education and training in the country. Many rivulets of legal education and gaps among their standards have put a challenge to the rule of law itself. We are failing to produce qualified lawyers and judges in terms of their legal knowledge and analytical and others skills in a competitive scenario in the global or regional context. Though it has been a vital sector given the contribution to the rule of law, democracy and access to justice, however, unfortunately, no body takes the issue of legal and judicial education seriously. Whereas our neighbouring countries including Nepal have been producing global-standard law graduates who are competing trans-nationally.

UKD: What consequences do you foresee in the given scenario?
MR: If we can't take immediate steps to halt this downgrading trend of legal education immediately, it would be a disastrous situation for the country. Unfortunately, after 40 years of the liberation of the country we could not initiate a standard legal education.

We have failed to set up a people-friendly vision in the existing legal education as well. It, with few exceptions, hardly has clinical and practical component. The existing system is also obsolete and archaic in nature. For example, no one can say when the curriculum of the LL.B. programme now under the National University was prepared or modified. The private law colleges, home for part-time students and teachers, alike private universities turned into business centres in producing so-called law graduates. The law programmes both at the public and private universities have problems with regard to timeliness of the curriculum, application of course, teaching methodology, examination system, skills and expertise of the respective faculty members, research and publications and other resources available for a standard academic atmosphere.

UKD: What is the impact on the judiciary?
MR: One of our former Chief Justices had observed that a disaster has been going on in our judiciary. This is contributed by lack of qualified lawyers.

It has turned into a vicious circle. Though we are getting a huge number of law graduates and lawyers enrolled each year, however, a handful of them are qualified in terms of proper legal knowledge and skills. That is why we are getting a huge number of under-qualified lawyers in the bars. The same is also happening with the bench. Fortunately, there are few activist lawyers and judges; they are very small in number to change the whole scenario. One activist judge can't make a sound judicial system what we need. Without a sound legal education we can't expect a sound legal or judicial system as well. We have to come out of the mindset of the colonial judicial system as early as possible.

UKD: What is the reason for this failure?
MR: No body thinks about this; no government has thought to take up the issue. There has been no initiative either from public and private sector to reform, regulate and standardise the legal education. That's why under-qualified and non-qualified teachers and graduates have been dominating like their counterparts in the legal profession and judiciary. One can easily understand what they are to contribute to ensure people's access to justice. It has been a frustrating scenario.

There are hardly any qualified and globally-competitive graduates from our law schools in practicing International Business Law or Trade Law among some other modern area of practice. That's why as a nation we are failing to meet the global trends and competitions in those sectors.

However, there has been an elite class among lawyers here educated in the west. They are not actually from the mainstream lawyers here; they do maintain coteries of themselves. Handfuls of them are controlling practices related to global finance and transactions here.

UKD: How do you see a remedy from this situation?
MR: The government has to take note of the situation. There should be National Legal Education Policy and Comprehensive Action Plan in this regard. We also need standard setting national legal institutions to facilitate study and research on various branches of legal and justice education. Human Rights should be an integral part of the legal education. We can follow the model of the National Law School of India University and Kathmandu School of Law.

UKD: What about the legal education in the Education Policy?
MR: The Kudrat-e-Khuda Commission has a stake of eight pages on the legal education. The latest Education Policy dedicated only half page on the issue which very neglectfully covers an important sector. This reflects our national position and standpoint on the legal education.

UKD: What about the role of Bangladesh Bar Council?
MR: The Bar Council has miserably been failing in this regard. It seems that it has opened a sluiced gate to all to be lawyers (Advocates). Since, the Council is authorised to admit new lawyers (Advocates) and issue licenses; it has a regulatory role and immense opportunity to advocate for a standard and qualitative legal education. The Council should standardise its examination system for enrolling new lawyers as well. Also, it should make effective the monitoring role over law schools. And finally, the Council should go beyond political considerations with regard to promoting and advocating for a standard setting in the legal education system. Earlier, the Bar Council, under the leadership of Barrister M. Amir-ul Islam, had introduced few skill development training programmes for lawyers, which included Bar Vocation Courses (BVC) and Continuing Legal Education Programme (CLEP). Those programmes had been stopped for unknown reasons during the last caretaker government.

The bar Associations have also a role to play in this regard. They should be vigilant about professional standard, skills and etiquette. They should develop and maintain a strict Code of Conduct for their members and fight for upholding the canon of the profession and justice.

UKD: So, what are your overall recommendations?
MR: The legal education has to be standardised to compete with in the globalised world. The legal education must be brought out of the four walls; it has to be made practical and be brought to the problems of the people and society. For example, in studying land law one has to go to the villages, and has to talk to the peasants, landlords, and sharecroppers. To study criminal law, we need to know the situation and psyche of the victims, accused persons, and society as a whole. In the present system, law courses are being taught without their practical aspects. That's why law graduates do not feel comfortable when they start to do practice. Its like one is learning how to swim without getting in to water. Therefore, in practice one found him or herself unable to swim in the huge ocean of practical lives and legal complexities. Legal ethics and ethical lawyering should also be a focus point of legal curricula. The law teachers are to be properly equipped with knowledge, teaching techniques, research etc. Continuing Legal Education should be introduced for teachers alongside lawyers and judges.

UKD: Would you please share your feelings being the “Best Law Teacher in the SAARC Region”?

MR: I see it as recognition of joint efforts of what we are doing here with regard to legal and human rights education. I would take it as encouragement for all of us for more works to do. And we need concerted efforts of all concerned to achieve the goal of an egalitarian society.

The interviewer is an Advocate in the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. He is also the Deputy Director at the South Asian Institute of Advanced Legal and Human Rights Studies (SAILS), Dhaka.


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