Raise the barBar Council is overlooking legal provisions and allowing one-year post-graduate degree holders to take licencing tests
Following these steps, Ram Krishna Timalsena, ex-registrar at the Supreme Court, recently opened the National Law College, which is affiliated to TU and runs a B.A., LL.B. course. All these initiatives have helped transform legal education in Nepal. KSL students have displayed their abilities in just three years since the inception of the B.A., LL.B. course by beating world-class colleges in international mock trials and moot court competitions. These law schools will soon have to compete with Kathmandu University’s School of Law, whose recently appointed dean, Bipin Adhikari, has already buckled down to teach a five-year long novel course that includes strong elements of management along with law.
Due to such continuing reforms in legal education, bright legal minds are now available in the legal profession. Law schools have done their part in preparing students for this job. It is now up to the regulators of practicing lawyers to create conditions that are favourable.
In Nepal, almost all professions—engineers, doctors, lawyers and accountants—are regulated by statutorily created bodies. This means that laws have created criterion to limit those who can practice the profession and the minimum qualifications they must possess. The Nepal Bar Council is an autonomous body created under the Nepal Bar Council Act 1993 and is responsible for overseeing the regulation of lawyers. It is composed of the Attorney General as chairperson, the president of the Nepal Bar Association (NBA) as vice-chairperson and councilors elected from the five development regions, who are nominated by the NBA.
The Bar Council Act has also set the entry requirements for practicing law and is accordingly mandated to conduct qualifying examinations, issue practicing licences to successful applicants, enroll and maintain the central list of lawyers and suspend, censure or revoke the privilege of practicing law for violating its code of conduct. Furthermore, Section 19 of the Bar Council Act allows the body to cancel a legal practitioner’s licence if it is subsequently proved that they did not have the requisite academic qualifications to practice law in the first place.
The primary role of the Bar Council is to assess the qualifications and credentials of an applicant before allowing them to appear for the licencing examinations. As per Section 17 of the Nepal Bar Council Act, only a person who has obtained an undergraduate (Bachelors) degree in law can appear at the Bar Council’s licencing exam. An undergraduate degree in law is academically and legally understood to mean an LL.B. or its equivalent and is not the same as a Masters of Law (LL.M.) degree.
Not up to the mark
Of late, the Bar Council has allowed persons merely holding a one-year LL.M. degree, ie, who has not studied an LL.B. course at all, to appear for its licencing exam. With due respect, most of these people have received their LL.M. degrees from overseas universities where the admission criteria does not make it a requirement to first hold a Bachelors degree in law for admission to the LL.M. course. In the United Kingdom, Europe, Australia and Hong Kong, students without an undergraduate degree in law are straight away inducted into their one-year LL.M. programme. Some examples of these universities are Cambridge University, London School of Economics and Political Science, Cardiff University, University of Liverpool, Erasmus University, University of Oslo, University of Hong Kong and University of Melbourne.
These universities teach and award an LL.M. degree to students who do not hold an LL.B. simply to enrich their academic qualifications and not to enable them to practice law. Furthermore, the respective regulatory bodies of these jurisdictions do not consider these types of LL.M. degrees as sufficient to practice law or to enter the legal profession. The Bar Council of Nepal, however, has overlooked legal provisions and is allowing those in possession of a one-year LL.M. degree to appear for its reasonably easy licencing examinations and practice law. Undoubtedly, people who only study law a year directly at the post-graduate level do not have adequate knowledge of foundational law courses such as public law (including constitutional law, administrative law and human rights law), criminal law, contract law, property law and procedural law.
Yubaraj Sangroula, when he was AG and Chair of the Bar Council, said that he was not able to devote more time to the workings of the Bar Council due to pressing and urgent matters he had to attend to as the AG of Nepal. With Sangroula’s departure, perhaps the Bar Council is allowing those with limited qualifications to sit for the licencing exams due to a lack of oversight from its chair, vice-chair and councilors. Nepal’s universities and law colleges have worked very hard to enhance the quality of legal education. It is time for the Bar Council to also help raise the bar of the country’s legal profession.
Dahal is an advocate and teaches International Trade Law for B.A., LL.B. students at TU’s Nepal Law Campus