Universities abandon research in law degree
[EKIMEEZA PERSPECTIVES] -FOR some students struggling to get a degree in law, the move is a blessing.
But to the experts, the decision to abandon the mandatory research paper as a requirement for one to be awarded a bachelor’s degree in law is a recipe for disaster. Legal experts warn that this could taint further the image of the most revered professions.
“This (research) has for the last decade ceased to be a mandatory requirement for the award of a bachelor’s degree in any of the universities whose bachelor’s in law programmes are accredited by the Law Council,” says Stephen Mubiru, the head department of Research Reforms and Publications at the Law Development Centre (LDC).
However, the move has only led to high failure rates at the LDC and passing out of incompetent lawyers over the years.
Mubiru made the remarks in Kampala recently, while presenting a research paper titled Enhancing the Research Function in Legal Training. This was at a regional conference on the challenges of legal training in post-graduate institutions.
According to the LDC (the only institution, which offers a diploma in legal practice), ignoring research by law faculties has led to ‘half-baked’ lawyers, leading to high failure rates at the centre.
The constant falling academic standards over several years has put LDC under the spotlight. Many attribute the problem to poor quality of students admitted for the bar course. The centre, which was designed to enroll 120 bar students, currently admits over 700 students.
Many of the lawyers admitted at the centre fail to complete the course.
For example, in the academic year 2006/07, out of 387 students that sat exams, only 81 passed, while in the 2007/08 academic year, out of the 456 lawyers who sat the exams, only 64 passed the course.
In the 2009/10 academic year, out of the 531 lawyers who sat fi nal exams, only 36 passed and 495 failed. Of these, 381 had to re-sit special supplementary papers, while 144 failed completely.
“Abandoning research at the undergraduate level has led to notable decline in critical legal thinking ability of many lawyers at the postgraduate level,” Mubiru says.
Previously, all undergraduates were mandated to undertake a research project for award of the bachelors in law just like in other courses.
“Research encouraged a merger of critical approaches of basic legal research with a practice in socio-legal research, a model based on solving a scholarly harmony of knowledge base, heuristics and problem-solving skills. “It remains a prerequisite for the interactive transaction of law from statutes and courts to social setting and from the social setting to statutes and courts,” he explains.
Because of this, Mubiru says, they produce practitioners who are focused on day-to-day practical affairs. This, he adds, renders them incapable of improving the system of justice or providing solutions for the individual cases before them.
Tracing the problem
The dean faculty of law at Uganda Christian University, Mukono, Dr. Pamela Kalyegira and the head of commercial law at Makerere University, Prof. D.J Bakibinga, argue that research was abandoned because many students used to produce poor dissertations.
Kenya School of Law director, Prof. Wanyama Kulundu-Bitonye, however, says there is need to harmonise the law syllabus at the regional level with a mechanism to build students’ skills to easily address the problem of research.
“Like in my school, we divide our students into firms and give them tasks. This helps them to use extraordinary skills to research on several issues,” he adds.
Kilundu says there is need to harmonise the policy of pre-entry exams to avoid failures from joining other law schools in the region.
LDC, through the Law Council, introduced a new policy that requires all lawyers joining the centre to do pre-entry exams, a move aimed at keeping incompetent students out of the bar course.
LDC’s secretary and academic registrar Joyce Werikhe says the policy has slightly improved performance at the centre compared to the previous years.
According to records, out of the 756 lawyers who sat the first every pre-entry exams in 2009, only 323 passed and 433 failed, out of the 879 who sat in 2011, only 423 passed.
The measure was adopted by Makerere and UCU, Mukono to identify the best students for the course.
The pre-entry exams test candidates’ aptitude and values they attach to the legal profession. The exams are managed by the Committee on Legal Education and Training of the Law Council.
Harmonisation of legal training
The chairman committee on legal education and training at the Law Council, Prof. Frederick Ssempebwa, says high failure rates are a regional problem.
“We introduced pre-entry exams at the LDC not as a solution, but a measure to weed out incompetent graduates from universities and to set a certain standard,” he says.
Only five universities including Makerere, UCU, Islamic University in Uganda, Nkumba, Kampala International University and Uganda Pentecostal University are accredited to offer a bachelor’s of law.
The registrar of Law School of Tanzania, Henry Lubengo, says they rejected 280 students from Uganda, who had applied at their schools.
“Our certificates would have been useless to them; they can neither practice in Uganda nor Tanzania. We also realised they had failed pre-entry exams at the LDC,” he says.
Lubengo calls for a regional harmonising policy on qualifications to remove such barriers. According to Prof. Bakibinga, the Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA) was reviewed to match the regional frameworks.
Policy strategies were developed to guide the institution to realise its mission as spelt out in the IUCEA Act 2009, to easily implement specific interventions spelt out in the EAC development strategy 2011 to 2016.
The strategies include establishing a regional qualification framework to facilitate harmonisation of education and training systems and student mobility across the region, enhancing curriculum development strategies and strengthening research support to universities.
The organ also intends to harmonise postgraduate institutions offering law. Rona Kamugisha, a former law student at Busoga University, says the National Council for Higher Education needs to strengthen its supervisory work in all the higher institutions.
She also notes that the Law Council has neglected it supervisory work of enforcing standards.
The Umeme public prosecutor and a former student at LDC, Justine Odong, says most students used to cheat exams while at university to qualify for the LDC.
“I know many who cheated and went to LDC. Imagine some of them are practitioners. What do you expect them to do in court?” he wonders.
Odong also argues that the Law Council should come up with a standard qualification for lectures who teach law at LDC. “Many lectures have never done research. We need people with enough knowledge and experience in law. Some lectures fail students to protect their jobs,” he adds.
Odong also contests oral exams at LDC,saying they do not give defined questions for all students