Published Date: 2014-08-11, Monday
First of all, I take this opportunity to congratulate the Kathmandu University in Dhulikhel for taking a firm initiative to establish the School of Law (KUSL) as its seventh School. It was a very timely move, in view of our pressing national requirement for quality legal education, and the Kathmandu University was certainly the best to think of it. The appointment of Dr Bipin Adhikari, a senior constitutional expert, as the founding law dean shows how serious the University is about its commitment for quality legal education.
I would also like to congratulate the Kathmandu University School of Law for launching a very important course, BBM, LL.B (Bachelor of Management Bachelor of Law) as the first of its academic programme. I believe this course is a beautiful marriage between the two important spheres of the knowledge system - management and law. The combination of the two independent subjects creates some synergy which helps in proving the whole as more than the sum of its parts, as Gestalt phrased it.
This marriage may create among the undergraduate students the capacity to understand the legal perspective while taking a management decision, and the managerial implications of a legal opinion, in the absence of which business enterprises may suffer for one or the other reason. The novel objective of this course, I hope, should ultimately help in creating lawyers who understand management, and managers who understand law. This helps lawyers create favorable business environment. They will be equipped with enhanced legal knowledge engineered with the capacity of a risk manager who is schooled in related disciplines and can provide multi-disciplinary solutions to the business clients and corporate sectors.
This type of programme was much needed in Nepal. One caution if I may add is that the course should be oriented not only to promote the legal business market to amass resources through the profession, but should also be inspired by the ethical considerations in the operation of business. I understand ethics alone could not have prevented many of the corporate malpractices that have occurred, but ethical lapses certainly can escalate legal violations. Therefore, in addition to law and management, ethics too must be imparted in this type of course. The course would certainly cater to the needs felt by the market and not be overly commodified in the name of marketing the course. In this context, the role of a legal practitioner must be reinvented in the light of existing limited contributions made by the law and the legal profession in maintaining the compliance culture of law.
Be that as it may. Now coming to the format and focus of legal education, let me be honest that I may not be the right person to speak about it. But as I am asked to speak on the prospects of this new law school I will try to present before you my fleeting thoughts on the issue on the basis of my limited exposure to recent development in international legal education and later my associations with the professors and professionals.
As a sitting judge I am always concerned about the quality of legal profession from where many make to the Bench. The foundation on which the legal and judicial system stand is no doubt the legal education. Having a quality legal education in place is thus crucial for maintaining and enhancing the quality of the legal and judicial systems of the country.
For a long time legal education was considered a specialized education. It is still considered so in many parts of the world. It is as rigorous and meticulous as the study of science, where very high emphasis is given to research and research-based education. But in our part of the world, mainly owing to the wind that blew in this sub-continental plains in the 1950s, legal education began to be considered as a liberal education. Again, gradually, students with poor grades started opting for law courses. Legal education got institutionalized as part-time education. Many students enrolled in night and morning shifts of law colleges. Permission was also granted to students to appear in law exams as privately studying students. This really affected the scenario of legal education for nearly thirty years. I am glad the situation now is changing. This School of Law can really show the difference.
I start with a popular statement that "law schools are great not because of teachers but because of students". Now when I see the attempts being made by great law schools like Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Oxford, Cambridge etc in roping in bright students and offering attractive packages, this sounds very true. Rigorous screening of application, entrance examinations, and interviews may help the school draw able students. I know that Dean Adhikari and his team have already worked on it from the very beginning.
Let me emphasize here that I myself have been sharing my complaints with the working of our legal and judicial structures for long. Currently I have been taking the responsibility of implementing the Strategic Plan for the integrated Judicial reforms in Nepal. In that process, one of the daunting problems faced by our judiciary is the lack of proper human resource.
One disappointing trend noticed these days is that the Public Service Commission, which has a major role in public sector appointments, is receiving far fewer quality applications for the judicial service positions than its vacancies announced. Law Schools are not producing an adequate number of meritorious graduates to meet the demands of the public and private sectors. The declining interest of the meritorious new graduates in joining the government's judicial service necessitates the review of the service conditions, which in turn negatively affect the service delivery capacity of the judiciary. The judiciary is largely leaning on the untrained subordinate judicial staffs who have limited orientation to the law.
Most worrying factor for me at the moment is that neither the Public Service Commission nor the Ministry of General Administration, which administers the civil service are concerned about it. I have hardly sensed any communication between the faculty board of law schools and the judiciary taking place in terms of the appropriateness of a curriculum or course. That demonstrates how mindlessly we are functioning in terms of preparing the legal human resource. I believe, the kind and quality of judicial services is bound to be affected by the kind and quality of legal education that prevails.
Currently, the junior officers in the judiciary do not often have any opportunity to be specifically train in law before they join the service; this has happened particularly after the closure of the certificate level course in law. I believe the judicial service is not just composed of the judges and the judicial officers, but also the lawyers and legal academics. If one branch is uninformed about what is happening to the other branch, the whole health of a body is bound to suffer. The potential of complimentarity between various justice sector actors is conspicuously missing.
I call upon the Kathmandu University School of Law to take some initiative to continue a dialogue among all justice sector actors, including the other law schools, the judiciary, the Bar Council, the Judicial Council, the Nepal Bar Association, the Public Service Commission and the Ministry of General Administration, that alone can streamline the contemporary needs of the different branches of the legal system. The more we communicate and cooperate with each others, the more we can create tangible, mutual benefits, which ultimately can enrich and standardize the legal system - our principal objective behind the creation of the law school. I have a lot of expectation from this bonafide partnership.
The other important issue for legal education is the issue of faculty development. I believe the law schools should take this seriously. This has been a bane in not just Nepal but our part of the world as well. Even though we know pretty well that law teaching and law practice are two different areas, we like to forget it for a variety of reasons. We come across advocates taking classes in law schools and full-time teachers practicing in courts. This kind of arrangement should not be tolerated. Having said this, I equally emphasize that law teachers should be handsomely paid, so that they do not have any financial strain and are able to use their free time in research and writing.
I believe the Kathmandu University School of Law can reinvent the role of law schools to vouchsafe ultimately the legal and judicial system in the country. Apart from the BBM,LL.B course that is just inaugurated, more specialized courses of different nature can be offered. My personal impression is that the legal education currently is increasingly disoriented to the legal philosophical overtones. Consequently the legal profession is taken more as a bread-earning activity than soul-searching, more tactical than logical, more as mystifying than experiencing. We are standing amid massive contradictions. The KUSL can demystify them. I welcome the School of Law to take this challenge.
My firm belief is that the law cannot be understood without understanding the context under which it might have been enacted and in what situation it is being applied. The contextual knowledge makes our understanding of law more realistic. This underlies the needs for multidisciplinary interface while studying the law. I may submit that the interface between science and law; law, economics and development, law and poverty alleviation, law and management, law and social change and the like could be taken up as an advance area for research and study.
They can help us identify our roles in positively steering the law in a manner that serves the society in a better way. I believe, economically inefficient laws should not form part of our good laws. An obstructive litigation strategy that amounts to increase of unreasonably high cost of the project, making it unamenable for implementation cannot be condoned as part of exercise of professional autonomy. Development hindered should mean development justice hindered. For me, the aim of legal education should be to create the capacity among people to enjoy their rights, inspire democratic behavior and ultimately distribute equitably the benefit of the law. Exposure of the student to the life, liberties and opportunities for that becomes crucial.
I see it a great merit for the School of Law to have network and linkages. By that I mean linkage with noted law firms where law students work as apprentices, linkage with professional organizations and civil society organizations that are working in different fields such as victim support, legal aid, and support to marginalized groups such as women, Dalits, and others, and also linkage with professional organizations such as the judicial academies and even the courts. Creating opportunities for meritorious students to work as law clerk with judges enhance their professional knowledge. I do understand that we, as the professionals, should help law schools in acquiring such openings, and I support your initiative in this direction in future. I do believe that Dr. Adhikari is aware of both the challenges and the prospects that this law school possesses.
Another important issue could be the teaching method. My only concern here is how to develop the legal acumen among the students. Coming to pedagogy, as the lecture method is not always encouraged now, law schools have followed novel methodologies that encourage learning. Instead of spoon-feeding their students, law schools encourage self-study, intense participation in the class, and usage of creativity right from the beginning to the end of courses. Asking students to write papers on given areas and creating possibilities of peer evaluation and feedback on presentations help students focus on sharpening their knowledge on the subject. Instead of concentrating on final examinations, it is always better to divide the score on a range of areas such as attendance, participation, paper, and presentation. Sir Francis Bacon was quite right when he said "reading makes a learned man, conference a ready man and writing makes an exact man". Encouraging students to write more and more brings handsome dividends to them.
It is very clear that law schools can play an instrumental role right from the point of conceptualization of laws to their implementation. Laws should be understood in such a way that they be practically meant for clarity, certainty, consistency, efficiency, effectiveness, accountability, fairness and equality. The understanding of law should promote entrepreneurship. It should encourage creativity through motivation and incentive. The confidence in law enhances when it is enforced. How far we live up with their qualities determines how correctly we are serving the cause of the rules of law.
Finally, I come to the ultimate objective of the law schools. What should be the objective of the law schools? Should they limit themselves to imparting skills or have some social orientation of promoting democratic governance, rule of law, human rights and social justice? Should lawyers engage in resolving social problems or promoting divisive tendencies and social strife or just be involved in wealth maximization without minding anything else? To my mind, legal education should be guided by greater societal goals of fair play, equity, justice, and democratic governance. Otherwise there will be no difference between a law school and a skill-imparting professional organization.
I am confident that the School of Law that Dr Adhikari is leading will be unique in many respects and not be just yet another law school in the crowd.
I offer my best wishes to the new law school.
I thank you all for your kind attention.