Events of the past weeks have led some to believe that the problems facing legal education in Ghana are caused by non-compliance with laws. That belief is unfounded. In fact, legality is not even one of the problems. The real problems facing legal education in Ghana today include expired approach to teaching, poor teacher-student ratio, poor access to trending learning materials, weak research base and unworkable rules on admission to the bar. All these lead to a very hectic, costly, almost-oppressive and highly unpredictable legal education process.
Efforts at Solution
Varied efforts have been made by the General Legal Council (GLC) and other stakeholders to help solve the problems. These efforts include the construction of a new law school building at the University of Ghana (UG), the renovation of the Ghana School of Law (GSL) facility in Makola, plans to build an ultramodern GSL training facility at Legon, prohibition of non-PhD-holders from teaching law in UG, recruitment of more lecturers at both UG and GSL, etc. However, the most dramatic effort is what may be called ‘democratisation of the LL.B. program’. This saw a paradigm shift from the policy which gave exclusive mandate to UG to award the LL.B. degree to the current situation where almost every degree-awarding institution may.
However, the democratisation process did not come without its own attending challenges. It has seen more LL.B. degree holders willing to be enrolled at the bar than the GSL could admit for professional training. To solve this problem, the GLC had to increase admissions to the GLS from a little over 50 in the early 2000s to about 250 last year. This move also came with the creation, in 2011, of 2 outstation campuses of the GSL, one in Kumasi and another in eastern Accra. At a point, the GSL also used a quota system of admission, where each LL.B. awarding university was given a quota in respect of the number of their LLB graduates to send to the GSL.
From this background, it may be pretty much obvious that the problems facing legal education has grown in genre and scope, giving birth to all manner of activists trying furiously, though in good faith, to fight for change. It is, however, even more obvious that the problem that concerns the activists most is not any of the above, but rather one that has to do with the number of persons that may be admitted to the bar each year. This claim is evidenced by events characterising this year’s GSL admission process, where activists have asked that all the over 3,000 LL.B. holders in Ghana be admitted to the GSL without any further criteria for scrutiny.
There may be many arguments in favour or against the automatic admission campaign. However, only a very few persons may deny the fact that the campaign is mono-dimensional as it seems to have no regard for the other more serious problems facing legal education in the country, e.g., quality of training. Indeed, one may even say that the automatic admission campaign bears strong features of fundamentalism and overly-generous obsession with high numbers and only diverts attention from the more serious problems.
Another call that is often made towards the resolution of the problem is one which calls for deinstitutionalisation of the professional bar training program. This call would see the abolishing of the GSL and the reconstitution of the GLC’s Board of Legal Education into an examination (rather than a training) body. Of course, this appears to be a more progressive approach when all is said and done. The question, however, is how the deinstitutionalisation approach would resolve the number problem, which it is often proffered to solve?
In answering this question, the apostles of deinstitutionalisation would say that the teeming number of universities running law programs would develop the capacity to absorb and handle the numbers. This is true; but only true if one assumes that the law student’s only and ultimate interest is having legal training for the sake of it. The argument hardly speaks to the issue of numbers when taken in its proper context, which is that the average law student’s ultimate interest is to become a lawyer and not just to have legal training. To become a lawyer, the law student must move beyond professional legal training (to be offered by the universities) to being enrolled at the bar. Therefore, while the various universities may have the capacity to offer professional legal training to the teeming number of persons seeking to become lawyers, they have no power whatsoever to determine which or how many of their many graduates end up becoming lawyers.
The power to admit persons to the bar vests solely with the GLC. This also means that it is only the GLC (not the universities) that could resolve the number issue. It also means that no serious progress could be made in respect of numbers unless the GLC is convinced that Ghana needs more than the current 250 new lawyers being admitted in a year. From this background, therefore, the deinstitutionalisation approach, like its predecessor democratisation of LL.B. approach, unless coupled with a deliberate and concerted effort at convincing the GLC to increase the number of persons admitted to the bar, would merely portend another situation where an army of “trained lawyers” would wait in agony and frustration, perhaps, forever to be admitted to the bar.
Going forward, it behoves stakeholder of legal education in Ghana to take steps to have a comprehensive dialogue leading to practicable proposals to the GLC in respect of the following:
- Preferred teaching approach in law schools;
- Minimum qualification for law teachers;
- Minimum qualification for admission to the LL.B. program;
- Accreditation criteria for institutions that will award LL.B. degrees;
- Deinstitutionalisation of professional law training program;
- Ghana’s need for lawyers, leading to an objectively determined number of lawyers to be admitted to the bar each year for the next 10 years;
- Effective pupillage program; and
- Cost of legal education.
The stakeholders to this dialogue should include the following:
- The General Legal Council,
- The Ghana Bar Association,
- The National Accreditation Board,
- Deans and directors of law faculties and schools;
- The National Union of Ghana Students (and law student associations),
- Law teachers’ associations, and
- Proprietors of law schools.
In all, it may not be false to say that the current agitation over the number of persons to be admitted to the Ghana bar would see no end until and unless the GLC is convinced with credible evidence that Ghana needs more lawyers than the current rate of enrolment. Such evidence, sure, would not come from dry legal arguments of doubtful integrity. Such evidence may only be had from sound economic, social and political policy analysis and considerations.