Law school admission was one of the topical issues ahead of the 2020 General Elections. Indeed during the vetting of Ministers, the Attorney General assured the committee of taking an-all-inclusive look at the situation to find solutions that would expand access without compromising quality. Given the theme of the budget, “Economic Revitalization through completion, consolidation and continuity”, our policy direction in every area of the economy must be progressive and forward looking. Unfortunately, the issue of law school access and potential of Ghanaians becoming lawyers is rather sadly retrogressive.
It was reported in 2019 that over 90 percent of students who sat for the year’s Ghana School of Law entrance examination failed to make the cut off for admission. According to the reports, results showed that out of the 1,820 candidates who sat for the entrance exams, only 128, representing 7 percent passed.
In 2018, only 9% of the students were said to have passed the bar exam. This was even worse than the 2017 results which had more than 80% of students failing, as only 91 out of the over 500 candidates passed.
In October 2019 students and graduates of the Ghana School of Law protested against the school’s entrance examination. We simply cannot continue like this as a country. The affected persons and other prospective candidates marched to parliament and presented a petition to have the General Legal Council address what they termed as a “systemic problem” at the School of Law. Some of their concerns were the mass failure, the fees charged for resit and remarking of exam papers, as well as the policy of rewriting all papers if a student fails more than 3 papers.
Policy Direction should be to create opportunity for all
According to the National Development Planning Commission, one of the aims of the Coordinated Programme of Economic and Social Development Policies 2017 to 2024, is to create opportunities for all Ghanaians. As part of that goal, government must expand access to and improve the quality of education at all levels and for all social groups. Education is a fundamental right. Every Ghanaian has the right to aspire to their desired aspiration without any fetter. The General Legal Council and indeed the position of Government in the current Budget is very discriminatory against Article 18 of the 1992 Constitution.
This also implies that looking at the 2020 figures, students should be expecting about 47.37% reduction in admissions into the law school and 18.03% decrease in the total number of students expected to be called to the Bar. This is very retrogressive particularly when the NPP 2020 Manifesto promises to “expand infrastructure and increase access to legal education”, as a response to the challenges facing legal education in Ghana.
It would be recalled that there were many concerns raised by prospective law students, CSOs, and other stakeholders for a need for reforms in our legal education. The advocacy resulted in many students calling for the scrapping of the entrance examination and allowing for various law faculties and accredited institutions in the country to run professional legal education. Many called on Government to ensure a comprehensive redress of the challenges to make law school more accessible for individuals who want to fulfill their aspirations as lawyers.
It is our duty as policy makers to ensure that legal education in Ghana is restructured to ensure that the rights of students to become professional Lawyers are not curtailed due to man-made challenges and lack of proactive thinking. This certainly cannot happen under the watch of a President who is credited as having strong human rights credentials.
Policy Direction under 2021 Budget
In Paragraph 1,054 of the 2021 Budget, it was reported as follows; ‘the General Legal Council (Ghana School of Law) enrolled 549 Lawyers to the Bar in 2020’. This implies that if government takes steps to deal with the issues referred to above, it is likely that more students would get opportunity to become lawyers in Ghana. It was equally reported that ‘the Ghana School of Law conducted entrance examination for 2,701 applicants in August 2020 for admissions into the Ghana School of Law out of which 1,045 students passed.’ Even though the numbers represented an improvement of those who passed into the law school, it still does not answer the question of lack of access and the discriminatory nature of the current policy.
What is worse is the fact that the Budget reported that ‘in 2020, a total of 549 Lawyers were enrolled after entrance exams were conducted for 2,701 applicants out of which 1,045 passed.
However, according to the 2021 budget, the Ghana Law School expects to conduct entrance examinations for 2,200 applicants and admit 550 to the School of Law while 450 students are expected to be called to the Bar. This also implies that looking at the 2020 figures, students should be expecting about 47.37% reduction in admissions into the law school and 18.03% decrease in the total number of students expected to be called to the Bar. This is very retrogressive particularly when the NPP 2020 Manifesto promises to “expand infrastructure and increase access to legal education”, as a response to the challenges facing legal education in Ghana.
Conclusion and Recommendations
In conclusion government must be minded of its obligation under the 1992 Constitution particularly in Article 37 (I) which provides as follows; ‘The State shall endeavour to secure and protect a social order founded on the ideals and principles of freedom, equality, justice, probity and accountability as enshrined in Chapter 5 of this Constitution; and in particular, the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that every citizen has equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law’. The provisions in the Budget statement as they stand do not ensure equal opportunities to all. The state must also be minded of Article 38, which imposes obligations on the state to provide educational facilities at all levels and in all the Regions of Ghana and make those facilities available to all citizens and also ensure equal access and also guarantee ‘life-long education’.
From the foregoing, it is respectfully recommend that the Attorney General as a matter of urgency submits a new bill to the House to replace the Legal Profession Amendment Bill 2018 to achieve the above-stated purpose – as the Legal Profession Act, Act 32 gives the Attorney-General the power to give general policy directions to the General Legal Counsel to institute reforms. It will also be relevant for the Ghana Statistical Service to conduct a needs assessment of the Lawyer to client ratio to ensure that Ghana does not lag behind in a critical field such as law profession in Ghana – as more than two-thirds of LL.B holders are added to a backlog of potential Lawyers each year.
As it stands now, the budget only deepens the woes of law students in Ghana and does not inspire confidence for their future career as lawyers.
Hon. Francis-Xavier Sosu is a private legal practitioner, human rights activist, Member of Parliament for Madina, a member of the Appointments Committee of Parliament and Deputy Ranking Member of the Constitutional and Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament.