Revisiting legal education in Bangladesh
S. M. Masum Billah
My good friend Rizwan from Australia has pointed out some lacunas of our contemporary legal education and forwarded some possible solutions (Legal Education: Some Observations of a Young academic, the Daily Star Law Page: 16 August 2008). Rizwan hopes that would 'stimulate' a debate on the point. Being stimulated I desire to focus on some few other issues inseparably related with legal education. I substantially concur with Rizwan's contentions but subtly differ on priorities of concentration as advocated by him. Stressing the necessity on more financial investment in this sector I am trying to raise some aspects of legal education in this write up.
Legal Information & Research
Rizwan has rightly said that establishing own databases for the universities of Bangladesh require huge resources. I don't know what the universities are thinking on this point. But for effective law education easy access to legal information is the basic prerequisite of the day. In this connection, the government has a predominant role to play. Not only all statutes but also leading judicial decisions of the apex court should be made available online at the government's initiative. However, the human rights NGOs and big law firms should come forward for materializing this purpose. And for the time being, the universities should take initiatives to publish authentic law journals and make it accessible by putting it online. Our law students in most cases depend upon some Indian books for passing out their examinations. Unless and until a culture of in-depth legal research of case laws and statutory laws is evolved we would not be able to establish our native jurisprudence. That is possible only when the law information is easily available.
Socially responsive legal education
Aim of legal education should be 'ethical justice education' geared to the empowerment of the mass people of Bangladesh. To that effect the legal curricula should contain and address the issues of poverty, injustice, governance, social factors, economy, culture et cetra to equip with the needs of the students. For that, the syllabus is to be diverted to a socially responsive legal education. Legal education in Bangladesh, as urged by Dr. Mizan, must be directed to justice education. “Justice education”, is a concept which emphasizes on legal ethics and social responsibility of the legal profession (Review of Legal Education in Bangladesh, Law Commission Final Report: 2006). A simple and stereotype legal education system which takes into account merely mechanics of law is not desirable. There should be a scholastic and professional juxtapose in reflecting the true content of legal education.
Law in the book and law in reality
Legal education in Bangladesh should be taken out of the classroom and brought to the community itself. It is absurd to think that a student should get himself admitted into law course and finish his education within the corridors of the universities without coming into contact with the mass people. It has to be a community-focused education where the students must be given the practical experiences regarding how people feel in the society? What is the perception of law in the society? How general people look at law? How the common folks look at justice? What are their legal grievances, pathos and bathos, fobs and sorrows? To change the whole inbuilt mechanism the law graduates, the future Judges, lawyers, professionals, advisers need to interact with the community people more closely. So, legal education should be brought to community, so that it becomes an open door legal education, of course without prejudicing in-house lectures & trainings.
The cultural and social value of legal study is painfully absent in our legal education. We often use to say law schools in Bangladesh put too much importance on theoretical aspects of law disregarding the practical orientation of legal profession. On the one hand the proposition is true, but it is equally true that our students lack convincing knowledge on legal philosophy, legal history and schools of jurisprudence in particular. How many legal thoughts have been developed by our theory centric legal study so far? Theory should be translated into practice. In many cases, 'students pass out, qualified as law graduates and practitioners who may never have heard of Bentham or Pound' (Kulshreshtha, VD, Landmarks in Indian Legal & Constitutional History: 1995). The clear vision of law schools, division of degrees according to the aim of the graduates can solve this riddle.
It is an ignominy that we still suffer from indecision as to the medium of law teaching in Bangladesh. Many people argue that English should be the medium of instruction in legal education. The candid reason behind this is that the upper echelon of the profession is well tuned to English. But question is that should it be made compulsory in legal curricula? Public Universities have made it optional while private universities have made it compulsory to write in English. But I am afraid; the flexibility of admission quality in private universities has opened a plethora of uncertainty in grasping the legal knowledge by the students having sheer weakness in English. Consequently, the private university students in most cases struggle to learn English very well that result in dismal failure in exams. In the meantime they use to forget the art of Bangla writing. Needless to say we have failed to develop a very accessible Bangla legal literature either in terms of books or of research articles. Development of legal education cannot be addressed without unfolding this paradox. To my understanding, studying law is much more a concern of language (interpretative horizons) than a question of law. A lawyer to be a good craftsman must be endowed with effective vehicles like language, logic and concept.
Role of the Bar Council
In Bangladesh, the Bar Council is entrusted with the responsibility to look after the standard of legal education. But there is no visible role of it other than organizing a stereotype Bar Vocational Course burdened with some outdated materials. Legal education Committee of the Bar Council should be made more resourceful by assimilating people having recognized competence and contribution to the field of legal education. More importantly, a National Body of Legal Education, say for example, like that of the Indian Law Institute (ILI) of India, is necessary. The Bar Council can work together with the Law Commission to form such a Body in imparting and ensuring practicable facets of legal research and education.
Students are not rare who are often frustrated with the state of dismal law teaching in classrooms. They often lament that our law teaching lacks visionary aspects and qualities of leadership. The standard of law teaching currently should be viewed from cumulative aspects of private and public universities. The private university law teaching largely depends upon the youngsters of legal academia and often been supplemented by expertise from public universities and bars or benches. The recent judicial recruit has enticed a good number of young talents to the judiciary. So, the private universities are in acute shortage of their teaching resource. As a consequence, career teachers may not be found in sufficient numbers to mitigate the increasing demand of legal education. It appears that teachers training, scholarships, legal research back up have been the far cry of the day.
Appreciation of Human Rights
The all-embracing evolution of human rights jurisprudence has unfolded new dimensions of human rights concept. Legal education in Bangladesh cannot remain isolated from these trends. So, it is well felt that there should be a reflection of human rights appreciation in our course designation (Law Commission: 2006). Let me provide an example. In land law, we study the procedure of making a khatiyan, but we hardly study how complexities in khatiyan making procedure messes the right to property of the masses. We never study, for example, the women's access to land in Bangladesh in our land law curricula. We study principles of granting temporary injunction or appointing receiver in civil procedure code, but we perhaps do not analyze how much temporary injunction or receivership is an effective remedy in the civil justice delivery system in this country. Like examples can be made in some other subjects seemingly not having any relationship with human rights. So, human rights inculcation in legal study is the urge of the day.
In lieu of conclusion
In 2006, Law Commission of Bangladesh produced a comprehensive report on legal education under the able supervision of Professor Shah Alam. About twenty-point scientific and practicable recommendations have been suggested in the report. The outcome of the report is yet to be implemented. We urge for its early implementation. The diverse rivulets and anomalies in legal education system should be reconciled as soon as possible. To that effect legal education is to be made a development agenda. Before ending let me quote from the Law Commission's Report, “It is clear life's demand on law is diverse and all-embracing…..Law graduates need to be equipped with intellect, knowledge, skills and values which they would be required to apply not only in the formal dispensation of justice through courts, but in maintaining justice and rule of law in the broader field of life by observing, interpreting and applying law. Legal education, therefore, would aim to produce enlightened educated citizens, specialising in law and understanding the problems and needs of life through law.”
The writer is Assistant Professor, Department of Law, Northern University Bangladesh (NUB).