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Law students raise red flags over ‘undisclosed’ pass mark for professional course admissions

Law students raise red flags over ‘undisclosed’ pass mark for professional course admissions

Leadership of the National Association of Law Students has expressed its displeasure with the decision taken by the Independent Examinations Committee of the General Legal Council not to disclose the pass mark for this year’s law school entrance exams.

The Independent Examinations Committee of the General Legal Council while stating the admission procedure revealed that the threshold mark to pursue the professional law course this year will be set by the Council.

In a statement, the group says the decision is a clear proof to deprive people access to legal education.

The National Association of Law Students also raised concerns over other admission procedures.

“The National Association of Law Students (NALS) wishes to register the general dissatisfaction of law students with aspects of the published arrangement/procedure for admission to the Professional Law Course of the Ghana School of Law for the 2022/2023 academic year, which was issued on the 8th day of July 2022 by the Chairman of the Independent Examination Committee (IEC) of the General Legal Council (GLC). These aspects are as follows:

1. Predetermined admission

NALS is deeply saddened that, irrespective of the actual performance at the entrance exam, GLC is determined to continue to release poorer success rates, not because students underperform, but because the predetermined number of applicants to be admitted is 800 students out of 2,500 estimated applicants.

This is captured at paragraph 1072, at page 202 of the 2022 budget statement presented to Parliament by the Finance Ministry. As a government policy-intent, to admit only 32% of prospective qualified candidates seeking to continue their study of law is most appalling and clearly very inexcusable.

2. Failure/refusal to decentralize

Despite the yearly increase in the number of applicants and the backlog, GLC continues to delay decentralizing the course to capable law faculties or other educational institutions, preferring instead to put its faith in a flawed entrance exam, which, itself, does nothing to address the crisis arising from infrastructural inadequacies at the Ghana School of Law.

3. Undisclosed pass mark

NALS is deeply disappointed with the failure or refusal of the IEC/GLC to disclose, or be transparent about the entrance examination minimum threshold mark applicants are to attain for the GLC to offer them admission this year. Following the Supreme Court decision in the landmark case of Professor Stephen Kwaku Asare v Attorney-General & GLC (WRIT NO. J1/1/2016), a 50% aggregated score has been the unhidden pass mark in the 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021 pre-election, election and post-election year examinations.

In light of the unfortunate and wrongful attempt to deny 499 successful applicants admission to the Ghana School of Law through a grading variation last year, we, law students, find this attempt to further obfuscate an already opaque process unsettling, especially at a time when we need to be fully focused on our studies for the exam.

4. Illegal undertaking

In addition to the refusal to disclose the pass mark, NALS has noted, with shock, the return of the infamous undertaking that prospective applicants are compelled to sign as a condition precedent to submitting an application by 7th September 2022 to sit the pending examination slated for 23rd September 2022.

The form provides for each applicant to “undertake to accept without question, the decision of the General Legal Council in respect of the published results …as final.” NALS notes that this form or undertaking is alien to Regulation 3(a-b) of the Legal Profession (Professional and Post Call Law Course) Regulations 2018 (LI 2355) as amended by LI 2427 and therefore same is patent breach of Articles 11(7), 23 and 296 of the 1992 Constitution. It will further be recalled that the Human Rights Division of the Accra High Court, declared this undertaking as null, void and of no effect in the case of Prince Ganaku & 4 ORS v GLC (Suit no HR/008/2020). As a body operating under the auspices of one of the most important legal institutions in the country and comprised of some of the most competent legal brains in the country, we are astounded by the IEC’s consistent and blatant disregard of the decision of a court of competent jurisdiction, which jurisdiction has, till date, not been overturned on appeal.

5. Unreliable claim

NALS disputes a claim in the said undertaking purporting that “(GLC) has over the years established credible, rigorous and well-benchmarked systems and procedure for assessing answer booklets and rechecking of same for all candidates before examination results are released”. Assuming without admitting that this were true, it is trite learning that even the most rigorous systems suffer the occasional lapse. The systems established by the IEC under the auspices of the GLC have suffered lapses every year in recent memory. This is exemplified by the countless numbers of successful applications to have scripts reviewed at the Ghana School of Law upon payment of a GH¢3000.00 fee then, which was only reduced to GH¢1500.00 in 2020 after years of agitation.

If the systems established by the GLC were immune to failure, the rate of successful applications would be lower than they currently are. Furthermore, the question must be asked, that if, as claimed by the General Legal Council, the systems established under its auspices are so credible and rigorous, then why is such an important legal institution willing to go these lengths, risking a charge of contempt of Court in the process, to stop students from having their scripts reviewed?

Conclusion

NALS cannot support the above additional administrative change or any other arbitrariness which simply manipulate the number of candidates considered for admission. Presently, as it stands, LL.B holders are being asked to take an exam, without knowing what the minimum threshold to pass the exam is. Additionally, we will not be allowed to seek a review of our scripts, if we believe that we answered the questions satisfactorily and there has been a mistake.

If we go to Court to seek redress and judgment is granted in our favour, the General Legal Council will not comply. There has to be a point where policy makers look in a mirror and ask themselves, if the unfettered power to act with impunity is worth all the damage they are doing to public trust in the systems that they themselves have put in place to ensure fairness.

We state emphatically that all lawful options remain open to NALS. Furthermore, as a public interest matter, all stakeholders have to be worried about, and take steps against, the admission process opacity and its annual agitations and public discomfort after published results. This has to stop. We take this opportunity to remind all stakeholders of their duty to act to end the impunity. Today, it is law students on the chopping block, tomorrow it will be your livelihoods as lawyers. Where does it end?

The time to take a stand against the arbitrariness of the General Legal Council is today.

In the interim, NALS calls on the members of Parliament, the Right to Information Commission, Civil Society Organizations, particularly Faith based organizations and progressive public-spirited members of the Bar Association to wake up the conscience of the nation, particularly the membership of the GLC to do right and what is fair and transparent pursuant to Articles 25(2) and 21(1)(f) of the 1992 Constitution and Sections 13 and 18 of the Right to Information Act 2019 (Act 989).”

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