88 percent of Kenyan Law graduates fail crucial bar exams

Newly admitted lawyers to the bar take a selfie immediately after their admission at Supreme Court on 4/6/2016. [Photo/BEVERLYNE MUSILI]

New and disturbing revelations on massive failure of law students sitting the Kenya School of Law (KSL) examination have emerged.

At least 78 per cent of students who sat the November series bar examination did not qualify for admission as advocates of the High Court.

The results released on January 26 indicate that only 445 (22 per cent) of the 1,991 students who wrote their examinations at the Kenya School of Law attained the required 40 per cent pass mark in all the eight subjects they were tested on.

Wanting degrees

This means that only one out of four upcoming advocates will have to do a re-sit to earn a wig, a gown and a certificate to represent litigants before the court.

Council of Legal Education (CLE) also revealed that a half of the students did not comprehend probate and administration law. At the same time, 48 per cent did not understand what commercial transactions entail.

Also, a huge number (43 per cent) failed to understand what criminal litigation involves.

On the other hand, few students failed trial advocacy and professional ethic examinations, with 96 and 92 per cent qualifying.

Last year, Justice John Mativo observed that it is either the quality of education given at the law school that is poor, the admission criteria for law degree is low or the law degrees offered by universities are wanting.

“I express my concern over the numerous cases being filed in this court by KSL students. This court takes judicial notice of the fact that it is in the public domain that for several years now, there has been a worrying drop in the percentage of candidates passing the examinations at the KSL. This is a truly worrying trend,” the judge said.

“Kenyans should not bury their heads in the sand and simply let it pass unnoticed. The magnitude of the problem is evidenced by the fact that this court has been flooded by a high rate of constitutional petitions filed by students challenging various decisions made by the CLE and the KSL. Many of these petitions are triggered by failure to pass the examinations while others touch on admissions to the KSL.”

Justice Mativo said that the issue of poor results should be resolved with urgency to settle the matter.

A close scrutiny of the case filed before the High Court indicated that every week, there are two or three cases filed by law students.

Justice Mativo ruled: “I proposed, as I hereby do, that a study be urgently undertaken. In view of my above sentiments and the public interest need to ensure and maintain high standards and competence in the legal profession, I direct that the Deputy of Registrar of this court forwards a copy of this judgment to the Attorney General and the council of the Law Society of Kenya to ensure that the concerns raised are addressed and resolved for the good of the law students and the general public.”

The judge made the remarks in a case filed by two students who wanted the court to force CLE and KSL to allow them to re-sit bar examinations which they had failed.

The first student told the court that she could not raise fees for a re-sit whereas the second one argued that she decided to keep off class for some time over parental responsibilities.

The petitioners sat for their first examinations between November 12 and 22, 2012. They did not pass all the papers at the first attempt.

In his reply, Kulundu Bitonye, the CEO of the Council of Legal Education, said the advocates training programme must be completed within five years from the date of registration.

CLE thus locked out the two as the five years had already elapsed. It argued that the five-year grace period is enough for a person to re-sit an examination and pass.

The two argued that their right to education and to earn a meaningful living had been breached as the decision meant that they could not practice law.

But Justice Mativo disagreed, noting that the court cannot interfere with regulations by independent bodies, unless they are oppressive or irrational.

“In conclusion, the petitioners have failed to demonstrate the unconstitutionality of the challenged regulations nor is there any basis for this court to compute the alleged time especially as the regulations are clear on the question of time. There is no basis for court to grant the orders sought,” the judge ruled.

KSL and CLE now find themselves at the centre of legal battles with students who either are aggrieved by administrative decisions or change of law in order to ensure that only those who get into advocates training programme are qualified.

A report released last month by the Task Force on Legal Sector Reforms chaired by Senior Counsel Fred Ojiambo also revealed that law students graduating from public universities have a higher chance of failing bar examinations compared to those studying in private institutions.

Of the nine institutions captured, five are public universities.

Oral tests

Attorney General Githu Muigai constituted the team on September 26, 2016. It reported that Kenyatta University leads the pack of institutions whose students fail the bar examinations.

Some 30 per cent of candidates who failed the bar examination had obtained their undergraduate degree from Kenyatta University. Moi University ranked second with 22 per cent, and the University of Nairobi (Parklands Campus) came third with 20 per cent.

Graduates from the University of Nairobi (Mombasa Campus) contributed five per cent of those who failed the examinations. Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) graduates made up two per cent.

Bar examination is a statutory requirement for any law graduate seeking to join the legal profession in Kenya.

Overall, 79 per cent of law graduates who failed bar exams in the last eight years are graduates of these public universities.

The examination consists of oral tests and projects taking up 40 per cent of the total marks. Sit in examination constitute 60 per cent of the marks.

There is also a mandatory pupillage of six months.