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Report proposes higher grades for law degree studies

By Augustine Oduor | March 27th 2021
From Left: Vera Achieng, Joy Omulele and Washington Kenda celebrate outside the Supreme Court of Kenya after being admitted to the Roll of Advocates. [File, Standard] 

Higher qualifications may be introduced for students wishing to study law at the university if new recommendations to remodel legal training and qualification are adopted.

The report finds a strong correlation between students’ performance in the bar examinations and performance at high school and in the Bachelor of Laws programme and proposes new entry requirements.

“The entry requirements for admission to the LL.B should be raised. There is also need to place more emphasis on English grades,” reads the report.

It further says additional admission criteria should be introduced, including introduction of a standard exam prior to admission to university, testing English, language and comprehension skills.

The proposals are contained in a report titled Factors Influencing Students Performance in the Kenyan Bar Examination and Proposed Interventions

The report is a joint publication of the Kenya School of Law (KSL) and Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KiPPRA).

This comes as stakeholders raised concerns over the annual bar examinations mass failure by law students at the KSL.

Part of the proposed reforms is to mandate the KSL to train law graduates and also administer the bar examinations.

Presently, KSL only conducts the post-graduate training for law graduates, known as the Advocates Training Programme (ATP), while the Council of Legal Education (CLE) sets, administers and marks by the bar examinations.

The mandate of administering the bar examinations since 2015 is vested in the CLE, enforced under section 8(1)(f) of the Legal Education Act.

Also proposed is students’ internships, known as pupillage, be done before the bar examinations, in the belief that this would increase ATP pass rate.

The contents of the 2019 report will form the basis for a two-day stakeholders’ meeting starting Monday next week in Naivasha. The stakeholders’ meeting was postponed last year after Covid-19 struck.

Former Attorney General Githu Muigai will be the chief guest in the meeting that will engage on the study findings that will extensively look at the annual mass failure of bar examinations.

Attorney General Kihara Kariuki, the Law Society of Kenya and CLE representatives will also attend.

The report findings are based on review of relevant documents, data collected for identified key indicators, conducted surveys and semi-structured key informant interviews with various stakeholders.

Mass failure

The research team collected applicant data from 2009 to 2019, including applications received by the KSL and student transcripts. And the surveys were administered both to current and former KSL students.

The report was informed by many cases of mass failure of students in the bar examinations, killing many dreams as legal education training programme in Kenya is a pathway to the legal profession.

Meanwhile, Commission for University Education (CUE) and the regulatory bodies have been puling on different directions over who has the final say on accreditation of programmes.

The effect has seen several students disqualified and subjected to pain and suffering after graduation as their certificates are not recognised by the professional bodies. Some of the cases have moved to court, affecting students and leaving many parents distraught.

The report finds that the present order of teaching at KSL and administration of bar examinations by CLE has led to mass failure of many students.

“There was wider agreement that KSL should be given the task of administering the written bar examinations since they are in a good position to know to what extent the syllabus has been covered and are familiar with the curriculum and content covered. This would ensure a nexus between what is taught and what is examined,” reads the report.

The report, however, proposes that regulation and supervision of ATP should be conducted by the CLE.

“This points to overall consensus that training and examination should be carried out by one institution, specifically the KSL, complemented by strong regulation of the ATP by the CLE,” reads the report.

It emerged that the bar examinations pass rate has always oscillated been between 20 and 23 per cent.

The nearly 70 per cent failure rate has been a major concern among the stakeholders in the legal practice and report now proposes that in the event the examination function remains with the CLE, they should adequately consult and work closely with the KSL.

The report proposes that the threshold for admission requirements should not only be defined in terms of grades but in terms of clarity and predictability.

“Clear admission criteria would guide prospective students and applicants in knowing what to work towards and managing expectations,” reads the report. It recommends that the quality of legal education at university be improved.

“While in the university, students should undertake an attachment in a law firm or organisation with a legal practice department, besides the judicial attachment.

“Exchange programmes could be introduced within universities to expose students to various jurisdictions and learning environments,” says the report.

The report also proposes major changes in the administration of the bar examinations as most students indicated that the duration of contact for delivery of ATP was insufficient.

To cure this, report proposes that KSL adopts small classes and reduce student-lecturer ratio.

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