There is a two-stage legal education programme that a person must complete before they can practise as a lawyer in Ghana. Those two stages are broadly captured in these four steps
- Enrol into any university that offers in LL.B, study at least nine substantive law courses and graduate with an LL.B
- After having successfully acquired the LL.B, write the “Makola entrance exam” to enter the Ghana School of Law for professional training.
- If the candidate makes it into the Ghana School of Law, they would have to study and pass a number of courses, and complete an internship.
- After having completed the programme, they would get called to the Bar to practise as lawyers.
Until 2012, the transition from LL.B to the professional training was seamless. An applicant with a second class LL.B would ordinarily have had to apply to the Ghana School of Law, pay the applicable fee, and complete an interview to gain admission.
Although there was only one school offering the professional training programme, regulators stood by and did nothing as the number of faculties offering legal education steadily grew, leading to a gradual increase in the number of applicants. As a response, the General Legal Council, the body responsible for the regulation of legal education, instituted an entrance exam in its selection process, and did little since then to improve access to professional legal training.
Since the introduction of the exam in 2012, there have been a number of regulatory missteps that have badly backfired, and compounded the problem. Reforms at the Ghana School of Law in 2015 proved to be the harbinger of staggering and unprecedented rates of failure among continuing students at the school. Those students were forced to re-take their first year, reducing the school’s capacity for fresh admissions, as the number of applications continue to grow year on year.
Refusing to consider calls for reforms that would improve access to the quality of legal education and training, the Chief Justice Sophia Akuffo stated in mid-2019 that as long as she had anything to do with it, there would be no “mass production” of lawyers. In the months to follow, 93percent of applicants to the Ghana School of Law would be denied admission.
Commentators such as Professor Bondzie-Simpson, Legal Scholar and Rector at the Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, and Professor Stephen Kweku Asare, a US-based Ghanaian Legal Scholar, have condemned the General Legal Council’s oversight of legal education.
Professor Asare himself initiated action against the Attorney-General and the General Legal Council seeking the abolishment of the bottleneck, the court ruled in his favour in a landamark case on 22nd June 2017. Unfortunately, prospects of progress using court action are bleak, as the membership of the General Legal Council includes the four senior most Justices of the Supreme Court. The chairperson of the General Legal Council is the Chief Justice.
That has not in any way suppressed activism by student unions. In 2017, the Association of Law Presidents picketed Parliament House, demanding reform. A year later, the succeeding generation of Presidents and the SRC President of Ghana School of Law agreed to set up the National Association of Law Students to provide a united front. The mass failure of applicants in 2019 provided the impetus needed to speed up the formation of the Association.
After an inaugural meeting by concerned student activists held at the University of Ghana School of Law, the National Association of Law Students was officially launched to defend the interests of law students and demand distributive justice and accountability in legal education.
The National Association of Law Students is demanding for a complete reformation of legal education as follows:
- Scrapping of entrance exams
The requirement of an entrance examination into the Ghana School of Law was introduced as an interim measure to match the number of students coming into the law school to the capacity of the school due to infrastructural challenges. The original arrangement allowed every qualified law graduate automatic access to professional legal education. It has taken over five (5) years and students continue to be subjected to this cruel entrance examination which has produced devastating results over the years and prevented many from accessing legal education.
- Abolishment of the repeat policy at the Ghana School of Law
The current policy where students who fail 3 out of 6 subjects are required to repeat the entire year represents the height of injustice. A more realistic and rational approach would be allowing students to retake failed subjects only. Requiring such students to retake the entire exam instead of only failed subjects should be abandoned completely and the legal justification accordingly amended to completely deprive that cell of injustice life.
- Revision of the mandate of the General Legal Council
The General Legal Council (GLC), respectfully, should not be in charge of legal education. There should be established a separate body, whose mandate shall be to oversee Professional legal education in the country. The GLC should be left with the task of maintaining and upholding standards of practicing lawyers.
- Cost of remarking of scripts
The cost for remarking scripts of candidates who have cause to believe that their scripts may have been assessed in error is exorbitant. The cost of remarking per paper, pegged at GH¢3000.00 is exorbitant and we demand as a matter of urgency that the amount be reduced to GH¢500.00 per script.
- Repeal of the Legal Profession Act, 1960 (Act 32) and drafting of a new law reflective of the 21st century legal education
The legal framework supporting all the reforms should be modified as soon as possible. Act 32 being the parent legislation, a complete revision of the Act is required. The amendment before parliament should therefore consider these proposals and tweak the law to provide for the overly anticipated change.
We reiterate that as law students, we hope that these demands are immediately followed up upon and implemented wholesale. We will know no rest until our demands are met. Legal education is in a mess, clean it up.