Saturday, November 1, 2014
LDC Students Should Be Heard
By Bakampa Brian Baryaguma
The Law Development Centre (LDC) is the only institution in Uganda with the mandate to train and equip lawyers with practical skills necessary for the practice of law in Uganda. This training is technically known as the Bar course. Every year, about 1500 lawyers apply to join LDC and study the course, but less than half are admitted to this physically tiny institution, which has the monopoly to execute such a huge legal and administrative responsibility.
Over the years, LDC has registered abnormally high failure rates, which have come to characterize it. More than half of those who are admitted there do not graduate. The Centre is therefore, regrettably, synonymous with failure. For so long, these high failure rates have been a point of grave concern to members of the public and institutions like Parliament.
For many years, LDC administrators have casually explained away the unacceptably high failure rates, blaming them on students, whom they accuse of failing to understand the law and legal principles while at universities. They cunningly hoodwinked Ugandans into believing that LDC was a paragon of academic virtue and excellence, unlike their clientele, the students, who in these administrators’ judgment are practically dense and undeserving of practising their chosen profession. Interestingly, Parliament and most of our people have bought into this grand deception (and they are not to blame since they cannot be reasonably expected to have known the truth of things. They have to be forgiven for their ignorance).
But this forgiveness cannot stand anymore, because we, the users of the LDC services and system – the students – have come out to show Ugandans and the world the real cause of the high failure rates at LDC, exposing the institution’s extreme inadequacy and culpability. We have petitioned the Right Honourable Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda, in a complaint to her, requesting the august House to seriously investigate the underperformance of LDC. In the complaint (available online at http://www.bbbakampa.blogspot.com/2014/05/complaint-concerning-under-performance_10.html), we show how LDC is deliberately running a poorly structured Bar course that is designed to fail students; we expose the unethical conduct of LDC teachers, ranging from bullying of and malice against students, to promoting examination malpractices. It is our considered opinion that LDC is an institution that presides over academic violence; and one whose system is exclusionary, intended to ward off and lock out as many lawyers as possible, from the coveted role of legal practice. Currently, LDC is like a very hungry lion on the loose, mercilessly devouring helpless lawyers en masse. For reasons well explained in the complaint, we therefore, propose that the teaching of the Bar course should be devolved to universities teaching law in Uganda.
Our efforts and proposals as laid out in the complaint are not out of the ordinary, as they have been subject of contentious debate in legal circles. In September 1995, a Committee on Legal Education, Training and Accreditation in Uganda, chaired by Justice Benjamin Odoki, having studied the legal education system in Uganda, recommended (in paragraph 190, at page 76 of its report), that the LDC monopoly and organization of the Bar course should be broken by the year 2000. In 2008, another committee under the chairmanship of Professor Edward Ssempebwa, reviewed legal education in Uganda. In its report, the Committee recommended (at page 33) that the, ‘... factors influencing success/failure in the Bar Course Program at LDC be the subject of a detailed scientific investigation in the immediate future.’ This we have done in our complaint to Parliament, but we are really calling upon the august House to conduct an independent verification of our findings.
Unfortunately, none of these committees interviewed LDC students in the course of their inquiries. For reasons best known to them, during their investigations on the desirability of maintaining LDC’s monopoly over the Bar course, they neglected to consult the LDC student community as the direct users of the system. This was a tragic oversight. Fortunately, the nation and public authorities in Uganda now have an opportunity to reverse this, by simply giving due consideration to our complaint. We therefore, call upon Parliament to dispose of it, after being stuck on its Order Paper, since 25 June. The august House has been very cooperative with us and we appreciate it, but we urge our representatives to honour their promise to us that our matter will be handled expeditiously soon after passing the budget, which has already been cleared.
Before taking leave of this matter, I would like to comment on some developments that have arisen ever since we presented our complaint.
First, there was an announcement by the Director of LDC that the Centre plans to open up regional branches. This idea of decentralizing LDC and its services should be implemented (if at all, although we think it is unnecessary, since in light of our analysis and proposals, the continued existence of LDC is strategically and practically undesirable) alongside independent private institutions. Otherwise, we risk promoting and further spreading the cruelty, oppression and tyranny that LDC is infamously associated with.
Lastly, we are involved in discussions to introduce a private member’s Bill in Parliament, proposing to legislate the introduction of Bar course teaching at universities, which essentially gives effect to our proposals in the complaint. There is however, a suggestion to abandon parliamentary debate and inquiry on the complaint, in favour of the private member’s Bill. It is argued that the debate and inquiry will be mere academic exercise. We respectfully disagree with this view. We think that the two can and should go hand-in-hand; with the anticipated Bill coming after the debate and inquiry, because before embarking on our demonopolization strategy, it is important to know what went wrong with the current system, so that its mistakes and errors can be avoided by future actors. The two – inquiry and Bill – are complementary; mutually re-enforcing options, none of which should be traded for the other.