Get law training system out of doldrums

The Kenya School of Law (KSL) held its inaugural graduation ceremony last week and alumni of the institution lauded its achievements when launching an endowment fund.

But truth be told; legal education is presently in a chaotic state, due mainly to contradictory and parallel legislation.

Historically, legal education commenced after independence under former Attorney General Charles Njonjo in 1963.

The first graduate, the late Justice Gichuhi, became a Court of Appeal Judge and others who followed were Justices Aganyanya, Ole Keiwa, Bernard Chunga, Kasanga Mulwa, GMB Kariuki and Havelock. Omesh Kapila, Paul Ndung’u and Paul Muite, are other pioneers amongst many others.

In 1967, the University of Nairobi started its faculty of Law with KSL becoming a post-graduate institute awarding a diploma after pupillage. In 2012, the Legal Education Act, 2012 was enacted constituting a body known as the Council of Legal Education (CLE).

Among the Council’s responsibilities is ensuring standards of legal education are upheld. To achieve this, CLE is charged with accrediting and licensing institutions that offer legal courses.

At the beginning of the year there were eighteen universities offering a degree in Bachelor of Laws. Currently there are seven fully accredited universities; African Nazarene, Kenyatta University, Kisii University, Riara University, Strathmore University, University of Nairobi (Parklands) and Kabarak University.

Three universities have provisional accreditation, bringing the number of universities that can lawfully offer law degrees to 10. One university had its accreditation application rejected and another has an expired licence.

Only the University of Nairobi (Parklands) Law School is licensed to offer a master's degree in law. The school, however, only has provisional accreditation; this is after Moi University had its licence suspended highlighting the turmoil in the legal education sector. A student, after surmounting the hurdles of obtaining admission to one of the licensed universities and managing to complete the course is faced with yet another obstacle, obtaining admission to KSL.

KSL is constituted under the Kenya School of Law Act. The institution is responsible for imparting young lawyers with the knowledge and skill required to practice law. Surprisingly, the only institution in the country that offers the Advocates Training Programme, KSL is itself not fully accredited and operates on provisional accreditation.

In 2014, the Kenya School of Law Act was amended vide the Revision of the Laws Rectification (Order) 2014. It made pre-bar examinations compulsory for students wishing to join KSL with effect from 2016. This move has been fiercely opposed, leading to a court case aimed at suspending the requirement of Pre-bar examinations.

Although KSL is responsible for training, CLE is the examining authority. This duplication hardly augurs well. A student is vetted on entry to the university, for pre-bar examinations, on joining the law school and before sitting for the bar exams. The authority conducting these exams, the syllabus and marking of the papers is in shambles with little public information and the careers of up to 5000 students are at a standstill.

The Attorney General seems to be encroaching on the roles of CLE and KSL as he retains the right to exempt overseas-trained lawyers. It also appears pre-bar examinations are to be monitored by him.

Foreign students are also required to submit their degrees and transcripts to the CLE for recognition. This is even before they can apply to sit for the pre-bar examinations. This process is plagued by unnecessary delay and lack of communication.

The KSL post-graduate course entails full-time training for one year, examinations and six months pupillage, which is generally a nightmare.

In the 2014 class, only 200 out of 1500 students managed to pass the examinations in the first round. After re-marking and re-sitting of the papers only 570 students have been gazetted and are awaiting admission to the roll of advocates.

The cost implications are astronomical. The fee for the course is Sh 190,000.  This locks out a considerable number of students who cannot meet the financial requirements, not to mention in the event that one fails a paper, it costs Sh15,000 to have it re-marked and Sh10, 000 to re-sit.

Hopefully, CLE will not emulate KSL, where it appears that the policy was to restrict qualified students becoming advocate.

Hurriedly enacted and thoughtless legislation has thrown the system of imparting legal education into doldrums. It is vital that lawmakers revisit the process so that the destiny of the law student fraternity is streamlined.