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Opinions of Sunday, 3 November 2019

Columnist: awakenewsroom.com

Ghana Law School’s crises and Chief Justice’s definition of quality training of Lawyers

WHAT GHANAIANS MUST KNOW ABOUT HAPPENINGS AT THE GHANA SCHOOL OF LAW AND CHIEF JUSTICE SOPHIA AKUFFO’S DEFINITION OF QUALITY TRAINING OF LAWYERS

After several years of agitation, the Chief Justice finally broke her silence twice this year on professional legal education in Ghana. According to the respected Chief Justice, she doesn’t believe in the ‘mass-production’ of lawyers but rather the focus should be on quality.

She went ahead to state that so long as she had something to do with the training of lawyers what she termed ‘mass-production’ won’t happen. She then shared her experience on the Disciplinary Committee of the General Legal Council about the conduct of lawyers as justification for her advocacy for quality and not quantity.

It appears so far that the Chief Justice is walking a lonely path – she doesn’t appear to have any support on her position. At least not publicly. It appears she is right and everyone else is wrong. Many commentators on this issue have pointed out clearly that the quality and training of more lawyers are not mutually exclusive.

What the Chief Justice fails to recognize is that quality assurance through the establishment of robust standards and procedures for the training and examination of lawyers is what is important.

Using crude means to deny people the opportunity to pursue professional legal education has no place in the 21st Century. Again, people’s misconduct as lawyers has nothing to do with their ability to pass the bar exams.

In any case, there can be very intelligent people who may pass the bar exams but may have bad character.

This is, however, not the focus of this article. So far, the public discourse has failed to bring to the fore some of the most critical issues which have been veiled by the Chief Justice which even though the Chief Justice is fully aware of, she is playing ostrich to make the public believe that the system of training lawyers is full proof hence unquestionable.

To begin with, the recent reforms at the Ghana School of Law can be described as the worst thing that has happened to legal education in Ghana. In the past, Bachelor of Laws was not a requirement to enter the Ghana School of Law hence many lawyers who were successful in the entrance examinations proceeded to train as lawyers. The law now requires that only LLB holders are eligible to pursue the Professional Law Course. It stands to reason that any LLB holder from a recognized university is eligible to enroll in the GSL and subsequently take the bar exams.

In the past, only the Faculties of Law at the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology offered the LLB programme hence there was a quota system to admit students from these two Faculties as well as a quota for students from other common law jurisdictions.

By 2014 the National Accreditation Board had granted accreditation to many other institutions to run the LLB programme. The General Legal Council failed to respond to the increasing numbers and rather reintroduced entrance examinations but maintained its admission quota of 250 students each year. This quota system made it difficult for many otherwise qualified students to enter the law school. Many frustrated applicants who have the wherewithal had to travel to other common law jurisdictions to train as lawyers.

This phenomenon has resulted in a backlog of about 2,000 LLB holders who are unable to access professional legal education. This is clearly an artificial problem created by persons who think that they are the gatekeepers of the legal profession and they must determine who becomes a lawyer. While the nation is under lawyered, they take delight in further denying people access to justice by unjustifiably and unreasonably restricting access to professional legal education.

Entrance Examinations

In the past, the entrance examinations to the Ghana School of Law was basically general knowledge. Currently, for a 2 hour examination, a candidate must revise nearly all the 14 courses he/she studied over the 3 or 4 years of studies. This is enough to determine whether an LLB holder qualifies to pursue the Professional Law Course Programme or not.

Reforms

In 2015, the professional law course was changed from two years of course work to one year. It is doubtful if this change was informed by any research. Under the previous two year programme a student who failed in more than 2 out of 6 subjects was made to repeat that year.

When the program was changed to 1 year of 2 semesters, the policy changed. The results of the first semester examinations conducted in June are withheld and released together with the results of the second-semester examinations conducted in October.

A student who obtained grade C and below in more than 2 subjects cumulatively is made to repeat the entire course. The effect of this policy is that many students are languishing in the Ghana School of Law and are unable to graduate. Having realized the negative effect of these reforms, the GLC has revised the program to 2 years after implementation without recourse to the law.

The Independent Examinations Committee

As part of the reforms, an Independent Examinations Committee was established to be responsible for both entrance and the bar examinations. The principle was to separate examination from teaching and learning hence lecturers have no hand in the conduct and management of examinations. It must be noted that the few legal academics are the lecturers at the Ghana School of Law and the Law Faculties.

Having excluded them from this process, the IEC relies on lawyers and sometimes judges who are not legal academics and have very little knowledge of about assessment to set examination questions and mark the scripts. There is evidence to the effect that some examination questions fall outside the course outline based on which students are taught.

In 2016, students boycotted examinations because of this. While discussing past questions, lecturers discover how defective some of the examination questions are. The IEC’s procedures are tainted with many problems that cast a slur on its integrity.

There have been confirmed reports of examination question leakages that compelled the IEC to conduct supplementary examinations. There have been challenges with marking of scripts as some examiners complain about inadequate marking schemes. The IEC is the only examination body that conducts examinations and after the release of their initial results, many aggrieved students who have the wherewithal to pay a whopping 3,000.00 to remark a paper are mostly successful. Many of those who pay 150 cedis per paper for the retallying of their results are also successful.

For many years, in spite of the incidents of mass failures at the Ghana School of Law, the IEC is unable to produce a single examiners’ report to explain why the current generation of students are so bad to be failing exams at this rate.

In 2018, the Students Representative Council petitioned the GLC, Parliament and the President of Ghana to investigate the causes of mass failures at the Ghana School of Law. Consequently, the GLC set up the Justice Adinyira Committee to investigate.

At the end of the investigations, the GLC ordered the remarking of scripts at no cost to students and ordered a refund to those who had paid. This report is reportedly under lock and key as it indicts the IEC and the General Legal Council on the poor conduct and management of examinations which largely disadvantaged innocent students but they are unwilling to do anything to ameliorate the plight of those students.

Again, the IEC does not conform to any timelines for the release of examination results. It takes the IEC nearly 7 to 8 months to mark and release examination results. The results of examinations conducted in June for only about 500 or so students are released in January the following year.

Currently, the GLC is investigating a case where a failed student was substituted with a student who passed on in the results of the supplementary examinations released in September this year.

Accountability

It’s common knowledge that out of the 1822 students who applied to the Ghana School of Law last year only 128 reportedly passed the exams which was taken by 1820 applicants. Each of these applicants paid GHc450. So the GLC made a sum of GHc819,900.

Last year, over 200 students applied for remarking of their scripts paying at least 3000 per script. This conservatively adds up to GHc600,000. With all these monies, who is the Ghana School of Law accountable to? Have these fees been approved by Parliament as required by the Fees and Charges Act? or the GLC is an island where Ghana’s laws do not apply there?

Chief Justice’s leadership style

Interestingly, the Chief Justice is aware of all these developments but she’s unfazed. She wants the general public to believe that all is well with professional legal education in this country. She and the General Legal Council have ignored recommendations from Parliament on the situation the law school as well as directives from the president to take steps to address the challenges at the Ghana School of Law.

She runs a one-woman show and her autocratic leadership style is next to that of Idi Amin. When aggrieved students send petitions and proposals to the General Legal Council, she dismisses them outright without recourse to the GLC and instructs the Judicial Secretary to reply that the GLC has declined their request when in fact members of the GLC have no knowledge whatsoever about the petition or proposals.

As Justice Sophia Akuffo retires in December this year, she will go down in history as the Chief Justice and Chair of the General Legal Council who presided over the worst reforms at the Ghana School of Law. While she wants the public to believe that the General Legal Council is focused on quality against what she refers to as ‘mass-production’, the credibility of the Independent Examinations Committee’s work in the conduct and management of examinations is in doubt and she is fully aware. There is no other way forward than total reforms!

The Petition of the Law School Students to President Akufo-Addo and his Report to the Chief Justice