Every year, we’re treated to the same soap opera that is legal education in this country, and we thought you might not really understand what’s going on, so we brought you a short (ha!) guide.
This is a beginner’s guide to how legal education works in Ghana. Let’s begin.
There is a two-stage legal education programme that a person must complete before they can practise as a lawyer in this country. Those two stages are broadly captured in these four steps
- Enrol into any university that offers an 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.
- If you make it into the Ghana School of Law, study and pass a number of courses, and complete an internship.
- Get called to the Bar to practise as a lawyer.
You see, the two stages offer different types of “education” (to use the term loosely). At the LL.B level, you learn what you need to know about the substantive laws of this country, where to find them, how to even determine what law is applicable, and most importantly for me, how to think around problems.
So basically, when we talk about being a lawyer, the idea of law that the layman has is what forms the subject matter of instruction at the LL.B level. I’m talking the Constitution, I’m talking Acts of Parliament, I’m talking legal principles, legal research and writing etc etc.
And if the LL.B is broadly about teaching you laws, the professional training programme, which is the second stage, is about teaching you, for lack of a better expression, how to be a lawyer; i.e. which courts you need to go to for what type of cases, what processes you need to file in respect of certain cases etc etc.
You cannot practise as a lawyer in this country unless you have completed the TWO stages. So for example, you can have a first-class degree in LL.B, provide sound legal advice to judges and lawyers alike (as an intern or paralegal), as long as you have not taken the professional training course at the Ghana School of Law, you cannot be a lawyer. That actually happens quite a lot.
And this makes sense. Sorta.
You see, not everybody that studies for the LL.B wants to be a lawyer. Some want to be academics, some want to use it to better understand how things work in their industry, some want to use it to augment their chosen professional lives (see: HR personnel, board directors etc).
On the one hand, this system allows those people to get their LL.Bs and use it as they please, so that those who want to practise as lawyers can continue. But, on the other hand, because of it, demand for the course has skyrocketed. More and more institutions are offering the LL.B, which in turn means that more and more people are taking the course and graduating with LL.Bs, which also means that the Ghana School of Law which was built at a time when the University of Ghana was the only university that taught the LL.B programme, now has to cater for applicants from more than 10 law faculties across the country.
The General Legal Council (GLC) is the statutory body that regulates legal education and practice in this country. It is on the GLC’s watch that the number of universities teaching the LL.B programme has grown. It is on the GLC’s watch that the Ghana School of Law remains the only institution that offers the professional programme. And it is under the GLC’s auspices that the now-infamous “Makola exam” is conducted.
In defence of the current system, the GLC has argued that the quality of lawyers these days has drastically reduced, because of the numbers. Hence, there is too much “chaff”. To ensure that only high-quality students make it into legal practice, the GLC instituted the exam about 7 or 8 years ago to filter out “the chaff”. Fair point. So how does the exam work?
To be able to take the exam, you need to have successfully taken all of the nine courses that form the LL.B. There is a 7 week period between graduation (acquiring the LL.B certificate) and the Makola exam, within which students can prepare. There are approximately 180 topic areas spanning nine courses, scores of cases to be read, scores of principles to be memorized. The format of the exam is this. 20 objective questions, and 2 compulsory essay questions that could come from any of approximately 180 topic areas spanning 9 courses.
Going into the exam, there are a number of things that you must know as a candidate. First, there is a pass mark, but you don’t know it, nor will it be revealed to you. Have faith and trust that there is a pass mark, and if you don’t make it, it’s not down to anything that happened in this opaque system, it’s because you failed to meet the pass mark that was not told to you.
Secondly, you don’t get to see your papers or your marks, and so if you don’t make it, you will neither know what you got nor what you failed to get. To make this easier, you can have faith and believe that you didn’t meet the pass mark which was not revealed to you.
One last thing, before the exam, the GLC makes you sign a waiver of your right to challenge the result, so even if you see your papers or your marks (ha!), you can’t challenge the result or seek remarking. This is the kind of transparency Africa has been praying for. Lmao.
Honestly, is there any other exam, global or local, that functions like this?
I feel like, there are 9 courses, if you want better lawyers in the system, would it not perhaps make more sense to – I dunno, maybe I’m too idealistic – test the students on every one of the 9 courses? That’s how the ACCA works, that’s how the WAEC exams work. Is that not a better test of intelligence and competence than two randomly selected questions from any of 180+ topic areas in the 9 courses?
Anyway, about 2 or 3 years ago, Professor Kweku Asare took the GLC to court, arguing, basically, that the Act that set up the GLC did not give it the right to exclude people from the training programme, it only gave them the power to educate those who qualified i.e. LL.B holders. The Supreme Court agreed that the exam was illegal, but gave them some time to regularize it. I’ll take that one last time. The Supreme Court agreed that the exam was illegal, but it gave them some time to regularize it.
While the Supreme Court was well within its powers under Article 2 to make the order (giving them the time to regularize), it was, in my opinion, the moral equivalent of finding the President guilty of exceeding his powers, but asking him to go to Parliament to make his illegal act legal. Is it just me or does that really not look right?
Anyway, I forgot to mention earlier when I introduced the GLC that its leadership includes the Chief Justice and three of the seniormost Supreme Court justices. Honest bad. So where were we. Ah yes.
Eventually, the GLC regularized the exam, and now here we are. An exam that basically exists to exclude people from getting an education, not because they’re not qualified, and it’s certainly not out of any concern for “the quality of lawyers these days”, quite evidently the system does not work. How do we know it does not work? Because every year, more than 70% of the students at the Ghana School of Law, fail papers en route to the Bar.
If the bottleneck was only allowing the highest quality to enter, then there would be fewer fails at the Ghana School of Law. This is maths. So we are not seeing an improvement at the Ghana School of Law, and, if the CJs past and present are to be believed, we definitely are not seeing an improvement in the legal profession.
Just last year in 2018 or in 2017, the CJ was in the media lamenting about the quality of lawyers these days. The exam has been in operation for 8 years give or take, if the bottlenecks worked, not only would you see the improvements at the Ghana School of Law, you would see it in the quality of lawyers being churned out. This is maths.
So if it’s not about quality, then what is the real reason for the exam?
Because once we understand that, then we can begin to understand why the GLC insists that only 128 out of 1820 passed an exam in which the highest-scoring question is what you study in day one of law school. If it was a difficult exam (not even a very difficult exam, just a reasonably difficult one), or if apor swerved, you could say that the super-smart students were caught off-guard.
It wasn’t. It was the equivalent of going into an integrated science WASSCE exam, and seeing “Compulsory question: Define What Is Matter (35 marks)”. One or two scalps fine. But only 7% passing an exam like that? It’d be easier for me to believe Satan is under the soil, and if I jump and land on the ground, that’s me delivering a blow to Satan.
And the truth is that you can’t take the GLC anywhere, and you can’t do them focko. The GLC is run by the CJ and three of the seniormost Supreme Court judges. If you want to take the GLC to the Supreme Court, it is the CJ who will empanel the judges to sit on the case. She, herself, can sit on it, and there is nothing you can do but huu abeg.
Here’s what my issue is. Assuming the mass failure is genuine, and not attributable to any concerted effort to exclude qualified students, who then will take responsibility for the failure? Should heads roll at the faculty? Who takes responsibility for the failure to properly educated students who paid money to be educated? Or we’re just going to take the stance that everybody is blameless and the students are just stupid? That makes more sense?