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Opinions of Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Columnist: Alifo, Delanyo

With the Right Attitude and Changes Ghana Can Train More Lawyers

By Delanyo Alifo, Esq.

Recently, there is news in the media that some students who have graduated from our universities with basic law degrees and have qualified to pursue the professional law course at the Ghana School of Law at Makola to become licensed lawyers cannot achieve their goals because the law school lacks the necessary facilities to accommodate all of them. The law school consequently adopted a quota system to deal with the problem, i.e. the “large” number of qualified applicants from Legon and KNUST. The quota system inexplicably favored applicants from Legon and naturally, outraged the applicants from KNUST and many Ghanaians. Then the long-existing problem of inadequate classroom and other facilities at the Ghana School of Law has now again, and more urgently, occupied the attention of government and the General Legal Council.

At the recent call to the bar of new lawyers on October 2nd 2009, her Ladyship, the Chief Justice, Mrs. Georgina Wood alluded to the problem and announced that the General Legal Council was in the process of establishing something akin to satellite campuses of the Ghana School of Law at the existing universities to allow increased access to qualified applicants to the professional law course. A few days later, at a matriculation ceremony of the University of Development Studies, the Vice President of the Republic, His Excellency Mr. John Mahama also revealed a similar intention of the government. These signals indicate that the authorities recognize the existence of a certain problem. That problem might simply be the increasing inability of the current process of training lawyers in Ghana to provide professional training for all of the few applicants who normally qualify for law licenses.

But, different from this problem—though closely related—is Ghana’s overall inability to encourage and train as many lawyers as necessary to cope with our democratic, political, and socio-economic development and their associated legal fallouts. As I contemplated the writing of this article, I engaged a few friends and senior colleagues in discussions of my ideas, and I gathered from some of them that there is an impression that Ghana already has too many lawyers and some senior members at the bar, who may be a little too conservative, think that entry into the legal profession must not be made any easier for many to join. If this is true, it is a sad situation because legal practice has been undergoing tremendous changes all over the world, especially in more developed and progressive jurisdictions, to demystify the profession. The modern trend is to eschew the perceived traditional pomposity that is associated with the legal profession and instead portray it as a humble one and friendly to the ordinary citizens who lawyers are trained to serve. Though the changes are rather too slow in Ghana, they will definitely come, and if they come, they will definitely be sustained by our collective zeal and determination to make the profession in Ghana more progressive and competitive.

It is my view that Ghana does not already have enough lawyers. If the notion of the legal profession is to make a lot of money at all costs within the shortest possible time, then the law profession is failing the people of Ghana. Having said that, it is also my view that there are a lot of legal practice areas Ghanaian lawyers can venture into and make a meaningful living. The problem is that very few or none are venturing into these areas. A more serious problem is that even if some lawyers venture into these areas that may be completely or fairly new, those who must benefit from the innovations would not know about them because the legal profession in Ghana still holds on to the stone-age principle that lawyers cannot advertise their practice to the general public. This should be an interesting area for a robust debate in the very near future.

For now, as the government of Ghana and the General Legal Council struggle to contain the increasing number of applicants into the professional law course, I wish to contribute my ideas, believing that they would not be dismissed outright without giving them serious consideration. The policy direction, as revealed by both the Vice President and the Chief Justice is that the facilities of the Ghana School of Law shall be expanded and campuses of the school shall be created in the law faculties of the existing universities. My suggestion is far simpler. This is what I think would yield the best result. The professional law course must be incorporated into the curriculums of the law faculties of the various universities and the 2-year professional course requirement at Makola must be scraped. The details of this proposal are set out elsewhere in the article. Let’s now examine how professional lawyers are presently trained in Ghana.

First, an applicant for the professional law course must have gone through one of the few varying educational requirements in Legon or KNUST where he would obtain a law degree or diploma in specific subjects that are determined by the General Legal Council under the Legal Profession Act, 1960 (Act 32) and the Professional Law Course Regulation, 1984 (LI 1296). Under the LI 1296, to be enrolled for the professional law course, a person must have passed a final examination in the law of contract, tort, criminal law, constitutional law, Ghana legal system and history, equity and succession, and law of immovable property. After a person goes over this hurdle, he now proceeds to pursue the 2-part professional law course (in Ghana Law School at Makola), where he will study other law subjects that are also determined by the General Legal Council. Some of these subjects include Criminal Procedure, Evidence, Civil Procedure, Practical conveyancing and drafting, and interpretation of deeds and statutes. I think the current process of training a lawyer in Ghana is cumbersome and could be largely simplified and made uniform for all applicants.

To understand my proposal, it is important to note that both the subject requirements in the law faculties and at the professional law course are determined by the General Legal Council under the Legal Profession Act and the Professional Law Course Regulation (supra). As one would notice, it should really not be difficult to teach in the universities the two categories of subjects that are taught separately in the faculties and in the professional law course at the Ghana Law School. I am proposing that the professional law course must be effectively incorporated or integrated into the law faculties. The curriculums of the faculties must be revised accordingly and the number of years it would required to complete the necessary subjects must be determined and applied across board in all the law faculties, which would now be known as law schools. The law schools in the universities would have to employ more law professors including adjunct and part-time Professors when necessary. We would accordingly have the University of Ghana (Legon) Law School, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Law School, University of Cape Coast Law School, etc.

The requirements for entering these law schools must be the same. An applicant must have obtained a first degree or higher from any university recognized by the General Legal Council and must have passed a standardized entrance examination to be conducted by the Council. The underlying presumption here is that anyone who would enter a law faculty wants to become a lawyer whether or not he would engage in direct legal practice after graduation. Once a person graduates from a law faculty, now a law school, all that the person would require is a professional license to practice.

The General Legal Council must organize a final examination, call it, the bar examination, for all law graduates from all the law schools in subjects that the council may deem necessary. These subjects must include professional ethics. The Council or the Ghana Bar Association may organize optional tuition for students of the bar examination for a few months. A professional license must be issued to those who would pass the bar examination and they must be called to the bar as is normally done. Bar applicants must be allowed to take the bar examination a specific number of times. The existing structure and facilities of the Ghana School of Law in Makola could be converted into one of the law schools I have proposed. The General Legal Council must rent facilities for their only two major examinations – the entrance examination to any of the law schools and the bar examination for all who graduate from the law schools.

The other aspect of training of lawyers in Ghana is the Post-Call Course. This is a course conducted for those willing to practice law in Ghana but have obtained their law degrees abroad in common-law based jurisdictions and are practicing outside of Ghana. The running of this course is also very problematic especially, for those who enroll in the course. Participants of this course are mostly Ghanaians who live abroad and are lawyers abroad and willing to return to Ghana to help. In their desire to enroll in the Post-call course in order to become relevant for law practice in Ghana, the first roadblock they encounter is the dearth of information on the course until they physically visit Ghana. It is unbelievable that the Ghana School of Law does not have a website for people who are interested in the school to research for information about the school.

Presently, the Post-Call Course is run for less than 3 months. However, it is unjustifiably very expensive. Post-call students in the just ended course paid £3,000.00 for tuition alone. This figure, translated into old Ghana Cedis, is about seventy-five million Cedis (75,000,000.00) at the time, and it is tuition for less than a 3-month’s course. Students struggle in vain every year for justification for the Post-Call fee. There is also normally, general apprehension among Post-Call students, who fear to discuss their views freely and fear to question certain decisions of the administrators of the course because it is rumored that such free questioning of decisions may result in victimization of the “inquisitive” person and the eventual denial of him the opportunity to be called to the bar under the pretext that the person has failed his or her examinations..

The bold attempt by this writer in expressing these views must not be held against him. It must rather be helpful to the Council and administrators of the law school. The views could be confirmed by openly engaging Post-Call students in a free and honest discussion. It is important for the General Legal Council to unwind this perception by taking proactive steps to assure Post-Call students to feel free, fearless, and encouraged to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the development of the course. It is my suggestion that the General Legal Council must continue to run the Post-Call Course but in a more innovative and progressive form. Members of the Council must show a lot more interest in the affairs of the students instead of leaving everything completely to the administrators and teachers of the Ghana School of Law. The possibility of running the course or part of it online must be explored since many talented legal brains, who could be very useful for our nation are unable to vacate their current jobs for about 3 months to go through the course in the manner it is currently conducted. The General Legal Council must also be conscious of the tuition fees and other payments required of students such that a more cordial and healthy relationship would be established between the students and the institution as against the perception that the institution is only interested in making money out of the students.

This writer thinks the proposals discussed here are practical and appropriately tailored for the difficulties Ghana currently faces in training more lawyers. It is not clear if the implementation of the proposals would require a review of any legislation. It appears more as an issue of our willingness and courage to make the changes that may seem dramatic and exceptional but which are exactly what we need if we truly desire to make the impact we constantly proclaim and dream to make in our society. Until we are able to courageously accommodate innovative ideas that may at first instance seem radical, and we consequently make the big changes that we may be apprehensive of, thinking they might fail because they do not conform to the stereotype and the traditional way of doing things, we shall remain for a very long time in trance as we pretend to be serious people wanting to change anything.