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Opinions of Thursday, 5 October 2017

Columnist: Ace Anan Ankomah

Proposals for the future of professional legal education in Ghana

I respectfully wish to propose a solution to the current issues concerning professional legal education in Ghana in the wake of the decision by the Supreme Court in Asare v. General Legal Council. This proposal:

(i) removes the Entrance Examination (“EE”) and interview; and
(ii) converts the Board of Legal Education (“BLE”) into the Professional Legal Examination and Accreditation Board (“PLEAB”) to (a) grant accreditation to privately or publicly owned Schools of Law (SoLs), and (b) set and mark the professional examinations for students presented by the SoLs.

By these proposals the stakeholders in the issue of professional legal training in Ghana can take advantage of the aftermath of the decision to institute reforms so that everyone wins in the final analysis. The thrust is that we may succeed in doing a root and stem reform of the professional law course, not by throwing a healthy baby away with the bath water, not by insisting on keeping the “unconstitutional” yet validated ‘status quo,’ and not even by re-inventing the wheel, but with a little, yet significant tweaking of the system, changing the spokes to the wheel and strands of the fabric. What I propose is not entirely new and I have borrowed quite liberally from the New York system.

Respectfully, I propose these from 2018:

1. Discontinue the EE and interview. The EE and interview were introduced to address a specific problem: the huge number of LL.B. holders produced by the faculties/law schools and the unworkability of the quota system. However, the result is that several students are waiting for the opportunity to still undertake their professional studies. It would be different if the students were unable to pass the final examinations, instead of an entrance examination. Every LL.B. holder from a Ghanaian university or a university in a foreign country whose course of study is considered satisfactory of legal education should qualify to enter a School of Law, and/or sit for the final examination.

2. Convert the BLE into a Professional Legal Examinations and Accreditation Board (PLEAB):

A. First, the new PLEAB will not be the body to directly conduct legal education any more. Rather, the PLEAB will accredit ‘Schools of Law’ (SoLs) that would apply for and meet the PLEAB’s accreditation standards to teach the one-year professional course (minus the practical attachment), and prepare LL.B. holders for examinations as follows:

I. as a start, all three existing campuses could receive accreditation (reviewed each year or such other period as may be set),

II. other organisations (public or private) could apply for accreditation to set up SoLs,

III. accreditation would be granted only if the applicant body meets the PLEAB’s critical faculty and facilities requirements such as:

(a) minimum academic qualifications and practical experience for the Heads of the SoLs, Lecturers and Tutorial Assistants for each of the subjects,

(b) standards of facilities such as lecture halls and libraries (accredite
d institutions must have their own facilities and are not allowed to piggyback on for instance an existing university’s facilities), and

(c) how many students that each SoL is allowed to admit in each year, based on the facilities and faculty available

IV. the curriculum and syllabus for the SoLs would be developed and prescribed by the PLEAB, and could even include standard reading lists, assignment sheets and minimum lecture notes to ensure a minimum level of uniformity, and

V. the PLEAB could charge (1) yearly accreditation fees of a fixed sum or percentage of fees charged by the SoLs, and (2) examination fees paid by the students;

B. Second, the PLEAB would set and mark the professional examinations, and the SoLs would present their students for those examinations. Those who obtain a certain average pass mark would then qualify, first to undertake the practical attachment under the supervision of the PLEAB, an then be called to the Bar; and

C. Third, it is up for discussion whether it should be possible for a student to decide not to enrol with any SoL and undertake private study and then write the examinations. I have no firm views on this.

It is my respectful view that the current situation presents a fine opportunity, not only to fix a vexed issue in, but to reform, the professional law course once and for all.

Humbly submitted,
Ace Anan Ankomah