‘Law School no longer necessary’
In America, Canada and other jurisdictions, potential lawyers are not assembled in a place to be prepared for Bar examinations. The Council of Legal Education (CLE) supervises this practice in Nigeria and holds the mandate of running the Nigerian Law School. They decide who or which school to admit to law school or not, even if the school is a creation of the federal or state governments and passed the accreditation of the National University Commission (NUC). With the upsurge in number of law graduates stretching existing facilities, CLE created additional campuses to absorb the pressure. Still, the campuses appear inadequate compared to the number of students that graduate from law faculties in Nigerian universities and across the globe yearly. Former director general of Nigeria Institute for Advanced Legal Studies (NIALS), Professor Epiphany Azinge (SAN) in this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE and BRIDGET CHIEDU ONOCHIE said keeping the law school is no longer necessary. For him, university faculties should prepare their students to write the examinations and get called to Bar when they pass. He also explained his position about lawyers addressing the press after court sessions and cautioned that the practice could sway the opinion of judges if unchecked.
On the argument about whether the council of legal education should be restricted to only setting bar examinations, while law graduates prepare themselves for the bar examination, he said law school should be abolished. “I canvassed this system about five years ago and they came after me. It generated a lot of controversies such that very senior judge’s were castigating me. But it just did not affect anything because I know that we cannot continue like this. They said Azinge called for the abolition of law school. That is still my position. How many are we? We are just about 170,000 out of over 170 million people and the number is growing everyday. There are schools that have backlog of about four, five years. When you throw these people into the system, you have 3000 people. May be 10,000 is still queuing up in the law faculties.
We should also consider making law a graduate programme. I think we are gradually going to a point where we are going to make law a graduate programme. Take a degree in anything and come and read law. The idea of making law an undergraduate programme is fast losing its shine so to speak. Two, we have to stem the tide and check the backlog that seems to be blossoming at a very fast rate. What is taught in the law school that a law faculty cannot teach? Some of those that teach in the law school are lower in cadre than those who teach in the law faculties, in terms of experience and exposure. If it is a five-year programme, you make it a six-year programme. Graduate with your LLB and stay back and do additional one year. The only challenge is: are you going to have a central body like JAMB to set the exams, coordinate the grading and marking of the examinations? That is all you need. Most people study in their various institutions.
You don’t have a central place where you go to do your last examinations after SS3. You do it on your schools. It is not centralized. All we are saying is: why can’t it be done for law school? We shy away from this? But if we are the ones at the receiving end, we would have been shouting. Why should government fund the law school? Other professional bodies such as doctors, architects, engineers and so on, are they being funded by government? Why is law so special? What I’m saying is that it is only going to be for a while and people would speak out so loudly that things would come to an end. Why can’t people see tomorrow and start planning for it? One day, one pharaoh that knows no Joseph will come to the throne and say it is all over, go and sort out yourselves. The council of legal education go to accredit law faculties.
If you accredit law faculty, it means that that law faculty is capable of training students that can take those exams, capable of training students that are good enough to come to the law school. In other words, capable of training students that are good enough to move a step higher by taking the qualifying examination for BL. We now have a lot of universities including the private ones. How can the law school prepare 3000 students at once? Even if you create additional 10 campuses, it cannot. We are saying, in a class where you have 150 to 200 people, that is a big class.
Now you have 1000 people you are facing in a programme. I have been to law school to deliver a talk and it was like a stadium. How can you really get to the students intellectually and otherwise? It is a number we cannot manage. For me, that is really a big challenge and the earlier we address it, the better for us. I feel that time has come for us to get out of the law school and do other things. Where is the law school in America and Canada? They do their bar exams. They prepare themselves and go and do their bar examinations. I think we have gotten to that stage now. It is a self-indictment for the director general of the law school to go to conference in Port Harcourt to report that people write exams for others. What have you done to checkmate that and what are your plans against it. It is not a matter of moralizing, what has that added to the value of lawyers? Tomorrow they will start looking at lawyers as people that can’t write their own exams. There are things one has to manage well. You don’t have to put such thing in a report in a public place.
On the issue of lawyers addressing journalists after court sessions, Azinge said even though the law guarantees freedom of speech, lawyers must avoid statements that are pre-judicious.
His words: “I took cognizance of few points. One, the freedom of expression is guaranteed by the constitution and to that extent, anybody can say anything within the confines of the constitutional provisions. In other words, bearing in mind that there are certain things that ought not to be said as far as derogation is concerned. But the issues of matters subjudice is one that every lawyer at an elementary stage ought to be conscious of. This pre-supposes that we should not be discussing matters that are pending in court at a point in time in a way and manner that may be prejudicial to the outcome of that particular case. What are we trying to guard against? We are trying to guard against a situation where public opinion will now become the basis for determination of disputes because the judges also read. Their opinion or thinking can be shaped by what they read and if they feel that the preponderance view seems to be on one side, for them to be in tandem with public opinion, they may be swayed. To that extent, it is contextually better not to discuss matters that are pending.”
Asked to comment on those most guitly on this issue, he stated: “A lot of senior lawyers are guilty including my humble self! Some believe that it is a weapon to reach out to the public and supporters, especially in political matters. So when a particular case is twisted in the media in such a way as to give advantage to one side over the other, in political cases, it may affect moral. No matter how bad a case is, because of the supporters, people can come out and say something that would give them that believe that all is well. But it may not be the right course. All I’m trying to say in effect is: have we not come to the stage where the right thing has to be done? It is difficult when you are involved in a case, not to be emotionally connected to the case, as we are advised by professional ethics. We are human beings.
Once we get involved, we get fully involved and ultimately, we are also thinking about the prospect of getting judgment in that particular matter. You may not even believe that you are going beyond the bounds. Within you, you think that you are still doing the elementary things, but you won’t know when you have overstepped your bounds. My position is that the senior lawyers must set examples so that the younger ones would emulate. It’s part of mentoring. Secondly, unless you are sure of what you are going to say and how you are going to say it, do not even bother to venture. Three and more importantly, the judge’s complain a lot behind the scene and to that extent, those of us who are privileged enough to hear them complain feel that we also owe them a duty. In owing them that duty, we also want them to draw attention to that. Rules of professional conduct that we adhere to is clear on this.
The major temptation for lawyers is that broadcast journalists are not allowed into the courtrooms during proceedings, which means that they are compelled to enquire from counsels what transpired during proceedings. Based on this development, Azinge was asked if he would support judicial automation such as we have in South Africa?
His words :”I don’t think that is an impossibility. But again, the ball is in the court of the media because we want to see the maturity that people must exhibit for them to cover matters of such nature live. What do I mean? Let me give you example of football. Some fans now go out of their ways to gain attention. What do they do? Millions of people are watching Manchester United playing Manchester City and a fan who craves for publicity jumps into the field to go and hug Ronaldo. It is not the hugging that is the issue, it is that publicity that he craves for.
So what do the media do? Once they see such situation, they pull out the camera and deny you the cravings of being seen by millions of spectators across the globe. So, my own position is that there are certain things that can happen inside the court during proceedings. Are we matured enough to know that we are not supposed to air them? Assuming that there is a scream by a prisoner being tried, or a statement which is provocative or otherwise inciting by a witness or a suspect in court, which is likely to impact negatively on the society, whether Muslims or Christians, is the media matured enough to know that they would cut off the scene? That is the kind of thing you see in South Africa.
It gets to a stage, a judge may be doing something such as picking his nose, you cut off. Will the cameraman through training know he shouldn’t cover that? Assuming somebody doses off? There are certain things they try to guard against. So, if you know that the maturity is there and cameraman can guard against all those, there is nothing wrong in that. Yes, I’m for automation. What does the constitution say? The constitution says public hearing. Public includes live viewing as the case maybe. But all I’m saying is that we must be prepared for live streaming so that people would now know what they are expected to do or not.
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