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Opinions of Saturday, 19 October 2019

Columnist: Dawda Eric

Access to legal education is a constitutional right not a privilege

Sophia Akuffo, Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo, Chief Justice

The CJ of the Republic of Ghana has in recent times poured cold water on the minds of every Ghanaian.

The said cold water seeks to introduce us to another debate pertaining to the legal profession.

In as much as I disagree with her logic about "mass production of lawyers" in the country, I also share in her posture that, we need quality lawyers at the end of the day.

The substantive issue at hand has been whether or not, limiting access to legal education is the surest way to ensure that, we get quality of the very people we need as legal practitioners.

Another issue again is whether or not access to legal education which is a constitutional right of every Ghanaian includes, access to the Ghana school of law.

In order not to bore my readers with these hypocritical issues grounded on the very fundamental controversies surrounding the legal education, let me stick to the two issues and deal with them in extenso.

The Chief Justice of the Republic of Ghana is the chair of the general legal council. She has come out boldly that, so far she has anything to do with legal education in Ghana, she would never subscribe to the mass production of lawyer because according to her, "mass production" of lawyers would not give us the quality of lawyers we need as a country.

This specific averment by Ms Sophia Akuffo is an admission that, we have serious hidden problems confronting our legal education in Ghana.

My checks have it that, we have more than ten faculties both private and public running LLB courses in this country. In every single year, these faculties produce not less than 800 students for the professional law courses which is only administered by the Ghana School of Law.

It must however be noted that, before 2012, those who completed their LLB had automatic access/ enrollment to the Ghana School of Law for their professional law courses" including the CJ herself" without any hindrance. Those who had it smooth during their days are trying very hard to make it tough for the future generation. That is the very country we live in.

We have most of them who are very fine legal practitioners as well as judges and are doing well out there. Somewhere around 2012, the General legal council decided to introduce an entrance exams which became part of the admission process for holders of LLB seeking to enter Ghana School of Law for their professional law courses.

The chief Justice is "here today telling the whole world" that, the Bar exam which grants successful candidates an automatic call to the Bar is not enough to ensure QUALITY but rather entrance exams.

Again the Chief Justice is telling us that, serious supervision of the various law faculties running the LLB courses has never been part of Quality Assurance mechanisms(QAM) in the training of prospective lawyers.

Sadly enough, the Chief Justice has forgotten that entrance exams has never been part of the training module and for that matter, quality assurance cannot be ascribed to such two hours event.

The faculties do contribute a lot to the training of lawyers in this country. They do 70% of the work concerning the training of lawyers. If indeed we are interested in quality, those faculties should be the target. How they teach the law, how they set their exams, as well as the marking, must all be considered.

It is instructive to note that, the substantive argument has always been that, we need to expand access to legal education including enrollment to the Ghana School of law nothing more nothing less.

Under this dispensation, we have new curriculum for our junior brothers in JHS, the very fundamental exercise that grants a successful candidate to enter the senior high school has been scrapped owing to the fact that, this government wants to expand access to secondary education.

The basic underlying factor is that the minimum qualification for every Ghanaian child would no longer be BECE which has proven to be the weakest link over the years but rather WASSCE which is also internationally accepted as a pre-tertiary academic qualification.

The scrapping of BECE is going to give us a lot of SHS graduates in the coming years. The question, would the mass production of SHS students give us substandard SHS graduates at the end of the day? There is a missing link and I hope Ms Sophia Akuffo would help us find that link.

Now, to my second leg of issue. Education continues to be a constitutional right and nothing whatsoever in the context of privilege and therefore any attempt geared towards restricting citizens access to any educational facility must be rejected and treated as an unconstitutionality.

Ghana School of Law is an educational facility provided for by the Republic of Ghana which must be accessible to every Ghanaian child who has in mind to join the legal fraternity.

What we are seeing today is a restrictive attempt by the General legal council and the current Attorney General to prevent LLB students from accessing Ghana School of law through an exercise not rooted in the parent Act( Legal profession Act,1960(Act 32). Why should a subordinate instrument override the very Act that fortifies the legal profession?

Before I end, let make the following suggestions that would help us address the current challenges we do find ourselves in.

1. As a matter of urgency, the current Attorney General should immediately withdraw the legal profession amendment Bill 2018 which fails to meet article 106(2)(a) of the 1992 constitution of the Republic of Ghana.
2. Immediate repeal of the very LI that fortifies this whole entrance exam which is fraught with leakages.

3. A new law should give the GLC the powers to accredit various law faculties running the LLB courses to run the professional law courses with extensive supervision covering, teaching, setting of questions as well as marking.

4. The GLC henceforth must not be chaired by the Chief Justice but rather the Attorney General.

5. Immediate establishment of National Council for legal Education which would be so the regulator of our legal education in Ghana.

If efficient supervision of the various law faculties as part of the production "process" is not enough to ensure quality of lawyers we want to produce for mother Ghana, then, there isn't the need to have legal education in Ghana.

Law students and other civil society groups must continue to intensify the fight against this anaemic status quo till it is changed.