Fifty-one years after independence, we are a nation of “njala” and legal “load shedding”. In this context, it is not physical hunger I am talking about, but legal hunger. In a population of 15 million people, a paltry 1,500 are members of the Zambian bar. This is a crisis. It cannot continue any more. We need drastic measures to change this. Provinces such as Luapula, Western, Northern and Muchinga do not have a single private lawyer practicing there. My relatives in Milenge who get charged with possessing a ball of cannabis, will have no access to sound legal advice because the closest lawyer is in Ndola. This makes legal representation impossible and out of reach for a majority of our people. This state of affairs is a disaster!
The Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) is the statutory body established to provide the critical training needed to practice law in Zambia. It is a monopoly. It has a nine-month training program. The latest results are consistent with what we have seen over the years, a 5% pass rate, or in other words a 95% failure rate. Out of every 100 students, only 5 get to clear the ZIALE program to become lawyers. There has been a lot of discussion about what should be done to improve this pass rate. Clearly, passing 5 or 15 lawyers each intake will not cure the lawyer deficit that Zambia faces. Zambia needs to be adding at least 100 new lawyers a year if we are to have a professional legal service that would serve the legal needs of all Zambians. At this rate, we will never catch up, not even in a 1000 years.
The Law Association of Zambia (LAZ) president, issued a statement last week, stating that he finds nothing unusual with ZIALE results. He went on to say that students fail because ZIALE is tough. But the question is, to what end should ZIALE be tough? Mr. Chisanga said that ZIALE has a very compressed curriculum, and as a result students find it very difficult to master. He gave an example, “most of the students are used to taking 4 subjects in a year, so they find it difficult to master 9 subjects at once.” I have a question, are these 9 subjects, taken over a period of 9 months, necessary to the practice of law? What exactly do these subjects teach? If you have a program of study that is so tough as to fail a good number of people you need to practice law, it is necessary to change your program. Perhaps, ZIALE should stop to blame the students, it must accept responsibility for once and admit that its methods and its curriculum are archaic, and its basis is unsustainable. ZIALE is not helping advance the legal profession in Zambia, it is helping stifle the development of law in Zambia.
A bar admission course in Zambia must teach basic skills that impart practical abilities that would help law graduates meet entry level requirements to practice law. A bar admission course needs to teach things such as advocacy, drafting of pleadings, professional ethics, and procedural matters. It is absolutely unnecessary to teach substantive law to students because they are supposed to have studied substantive law at law school.
It is true that a bar admission course acts as a gate keeper in some situations where you have too many professionals and you want to deliberately control how many people get called. In Zambia, we have a serious deficit of lawyers, having ZIALE become a gate keeper makes no sense. As I have stated, it is tantamount to “boasting na njala” to insist that we should limit the admission of new lawyers when our country faces a serious hunger for lawyers. In Japan, the pass rate for the bar admission course is around 5%. However, Japan has a good number of lawyers and they can afford to limit how many new lawyers they admit. We are not Japan. The number of lawyers in Zambia can not compare to the Japanese situation. We need to use systems that are relevant to Zambia. We should not do things simply because other rich nations do that.
I do understand that some professors at ZIALE have said that law schools are graduating very low calibre of students. I agree. My interaction with some law students, yields a very sad picture. But that still does not explain the 95% failure rate at ZIALE. Student calibre could be justifiable if the failure rate were 50%, not when it is 95%. Out of curiosity though, why is it that the politically connected and the relatives of judges and senior lawyers almost always pass at ZIALE? Are they of a better calibre?
This is the problem when you make a training program unnecessarily difficult, you open the door to corruption, bribery and nepotism. When few can pass ZIALE fairly, the best category that would pass it are the extremely intelligent people, the geniuses. Since we have a very small supply of geniuses in the world, the next category of people to pass are the politically connected and friends and children of those who teach at ZIALE!
In the next intake at ZIALE another naïve group of students will enrol and pay millions in fees. It is like we are a nation addicted to gambling. Even when you know that ZIALE is a casino, we still have 200 to 250 new students who will end up paying millions to be part of the 95% failure rate. Zambian law graduates should one year boycott ZIALE. Without the billions of kwacha, they get from students, ZIALE might just change.
The Zambian government has the duty to ensure that the people of Milenge and Mwinilunga are provided adequate legal advice. It is their right. If ZIALE resists change, government can simply go to parliament, strip ZIALE of their monopoly and ask the people of Milenge to directly train their own lawyers. Both ZIALE and LAZ are just concerned about perpetrating their monopoly and “boasting na njala”. They do not care about the accused of Milenge. And that’s a serious legal hunger our nation faces