Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Kenya School of Law: A Den of Exploitation that should be done away with

Today’s Daily Nation carries an announcement from the Kenya School of Law (KSL), inviting applicants for the 2015 Pre-Bar exam. The announcement further states that the three hour exam will test students on the areas of Criminal Law, Constitutional Law, Law of Contract, Law of Tort and Legal Systems & Methods. Further, each applicant must pay ksh5, 000 for the exams.

The absurdity of these exams
The irrationality of having these Pre-Bar exams is that before anyone is allowed to sit for them, they must have in the first place done and passed those very units at the university. They are then required to re-do these same units and exams at KSL, after passing them at the Pre-bar level. This then means that by the time a student graduates from KSL, they will have sat for the same exams, three times, with nothing new added.

This is like asking a secondary school student to sit for a chemistry paper at KCSE level, and once they pass at the KCSE level and they are interested in pursuing a chemistry diploma, they will first be required to pay and sit for another chemistry exam, similar to the one that they had already done and passed at KCSE level, before they can finally pursue their diploma where they will again study the very same things that they studied in secondary school, and at the end of their diploma course they will be required to sit for another chemistry exam, similar to the one that they did at both KCSE and Pre-college exam level! As stupid as it sounds, this is what the Council for Legal Education (CLE) wants lawyers to go through.

But why introduce such unnecessary impediments? Some evil lawyers have always had the plan of limiting the number of Kenyans who can practice law, and word has it that they are finally about to succeed since only the top half of those who do these exams shall be allowed entry into KSL, therefore into practice.

The Kenya School of Law is an institution which should ideally offer certificate and diploma courses for clerks, court assistants etc, but has over the years imposed itself and created ‘relevance’ to law graduates in Kenya, through statutory means.

The director of KSL, Professor PLO Lumumba, explained, at an Engineers’ meeting, that the KSL is what has been keeping the legal standards in Kenya high, since most of the graduates from the numerous law schools are ‘half-baked’, and he went ahead to suggest that the Engineers should have a similar body for similar results.
What he forgot to tell the Engineers was that the lecturers who ‘half-baked’ these students at the universities, are the same lecturers who again teach these students at KSL.
It is indeed difficult to understand how, a lecturer who produces half-baked graduates after four years of engagement, will somehow (miraculously) transform the same graduates into fully baked lawyers in a period of less than one year at KSL. What is this magic that these lecturers perform at KSL that they couldn’t do at the university?

True purpose of KSL
KSL is not about quality improvement, no. In my opinion, KSL currently serves two purposes:

1. It serves to keep the number of practising advocates low by ensuring that the learning fees are unaffordable for graduates from poor backgrounds. This has now been further confirmed by the introduction of these Pre-Bar exams.
2. It also serves as a cash cow for a few people. It is a tool of legalised theft.

There are some successful lawyers in Kenya whose success is largely not attributed to their effort, but to the lack of serious competition. This lack of competition has ensured that they keep their professional fees high (and necessarily denying the ordinary citizen access to justice.) These lawyers feel that the only way to keep themselves at the top is by dismissing the young lawyers as half-baked, and also by preventing them from practising as advocates, by using the KSL sieve (high fees, and now the Pre-bar exam.)

(It is basic knowledge that one becomes a good lawyer, engineer, doctor, physicist, teacher, mechanic etc from practice, and not (just) from schooling. It is through Practical experience that the “baking” is finalised.)

A regular university graduate will have ordinarily spent around ksh100, 000 in four years, for both school fees and accommodation. Upon graduation, the same individual is expected to pay ksh 190, 000 for a less-than-one-year diploma course at KSL. The School determines the fees arbitrarily. This commodification of legal studies has forced many students from poor families to take long breaks before joining KSL, which is the sole institution mandated by law to train advocates in Kenya (…the school then throws around some crumbs by offering some scholarships here and there…)

KSL admits over 1, 700 students each year, meaning that it collects at least ksh325, 000, 000 in fees each year. This is aside from the ksh2, 000 non-refundable admission fees that each student pays on application, plus now the ksh5, 000 Pre-Bar exam fees.

Then the thievery continues
A chat with several KSL students further exposes the legalised theft in the institution. One students told me that  “…more than 70% of students are failed in one or more units every year. This is despite the fact that most of the things that we are taught here are not new, since we had studied them at the university..”
An unsatisfied student has to pay ksh15, 000 for a re-mark, while a re-sit goes for ksh10, 000.
This means that if each of the failed students pays for at least one re-mark, then the institution will have raked in at least ksh17, 000, 000! (No teaching involved, no printing involved, no invigilation involved…just re-marking!)
If your paper is re-marked, and you score above the pass mark, the institution does not refund your ksh15, 000. This is in spite of the fact that it was not you, but the lecturer who failed to do his/her work diligently. I am told that a majority of those who pay for the re-marking actually pass after their papers are re-marked, meaning that there most likely is a deliberate and institutionalised scheme by the administration to rob the students by intentionally failing them.
This legalised thievery doesn’t end there. Any student having ‘missing marks’ once the exam results are released is required to pay ksh2, 000 as searching & entering fees, for each missing unit, yet the blame lies squarely on the lecturer/administration (I wonder what justification any sane person can give for this toll!)

Looking for relevance
Most of the units taught at KSL are the same units that the students were taught at the universities, meaning that most of what is taught there is mere repetition. To solve this, the Council for Legal Education has begun to completely remove some of these units from the universities, so that they can be exclusively offered at KSL. One of the units that has already been moved is Civil Procedure. Following this trend, it would not be surprising if they removed Evidence Law, Criminal Law and all other practical units from the university programme. The only reason for doing this is no other than trying to find some relevance for KSL; otherwise why should CLE deny students particular knowledge? It seems that those running legal education in Kenya are conscious of the uselessness of KSL to graduates, and they are now trying to resolve this by sabotaging the quality of undergraduate law studies.

Way forward for Legal Education in Kenya
Kenya has progressed greatly in the field of education. Today, there are numerous universities across the country offering various courses. A young chap from Mtwapa in Kilifi County does not need to travel to the capital Nairobi to study law. The University of Nairobi has a campus closer to him/her in Mombasa County. The same is the case for a student from Kisumu, Eldoret and other places.
Whereas the universities have gone closer to the people, the Kenya School of Law has remained centralised at its hidden location in Nairobi (perhaps this is in line with keeping low the number of advocates, by keeping away from Kenyans from regions far from the centre.)
The only way to end this legalised thievery and exploitation by KSL is to completely de-link it from the role of training advocates. KSL should retain the task of offering certificates and diplomas to clerks/paralegals/, and decentralise the responsibility of training advocates to the universities. Whatever is taught at KSL can be taught at the university with better skill, at much affordable rates, and at convenient locations. Students should undergo their pupillage as part of their undergraduate/Dip process, even if it means adding a few months before one graduates with a law degree, and is admitted into Bar as an advocate.
It is disappointing that Professor PLO Lumumba, who claims high morality with respect to corruption and other societal ills, can head this institution without raising an issue with how it operates and commodifies legal education.

Older advocates should have confidence in themselves, and they should not fear competition from the thousands that are graduating with law degrees every year. Every generation claims to be better the ones that follows it, but that is proved by actions, not by imposing useless bottlenecks.

The Council for Legal Education should be reconstituted, and must have several students’ representatives as Council members. It makes absolutely no sense to have the biggest stakeholders being excluded from this policy making body.

Law students in all universities must organise and rise up against KSL. They should do it now that they have the ‘Comrades Power’ with them, since after graduation, they will not be as powerful. They have every right to rise against this institution since they are the biggest stakeholders-in-waiting. They should organise protests and demonstrations against CLE/KSL and those behind it. History is waiting for them & their leaders to win this war.


Benedict WACHIRA
2nd September 2015