By Dickson JERE, ACIArb, LLB, LLM, MIP, AHCZ, Dip.Journalism
Out of the 384 students that sat for the Legal Practitioners Qualification Examinations (LPQE) for 2018 at the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) only 4 cleared all the ten courses. Of the four, non is from the prestigious University of Zambia Law School. I call it prestigious because it has produced the creme de la creme of Zambia’s legal luminaries.
For example, all the three Organs of the State are headed by products of the UNZA Law School, namely, President Edgar Chagwa Lungu (Executive), Speaker Dr. Patrick Matibini (Legislature) and Chief Justice Irene Mambilima (Judiciary). And as a bonus, we even have Emmerson Mnangagwa (President of Zimbabwe) as part of the long-list of the UNZA Law School alumni.
Until 2010, only UNZA graduates were eligible to enroll at ZIALE. It took President Rupiah Banda and his Vice President George Kunda, SC to push for the amendments to allow students from private universities to enroll at ZIALE.
I was one of those who supported the move even though I am a UNZA product. I thought it was time to open up the sector, after all UNZA Law School could not absorb all the aspiring lawyers. But even with the opening up of ZIALE to others, students from UNZA Law School outperformed the rest, always topping the list of those called to the Bar to the extent that the rest were treated with scorn! Some lecturers would giggle if wrong answer is given by a non-UNZA graduate. UNZA was a measure of intelligence at ZIALE! But not anymore – going by the recent trend.
Where did it go wrong?
One of the attributes of the good performance of UNZA students was the quality of lecturers it had. Most of them had been teaching for many years like my workmate Prof Patrick Mphanza Mvunga, SC. Then suddenly, there was a policy change introduced at the UNZA Law School which banned lecturers from private law practice. They had to choose either to go and practice the law or teach the law. The rationale was to allow students have wider access to their lecturers outside of the classroom hours.
But quite a number of good and experienced lecturers left UNZA as a result of that policy shift, including State Counsel Prof Mvunga and John Sangwa. Another crop of lecturers actually migrated to University of Lusaka (UNILUS) where they beefed up the law school there. Even though these people were replaced with equally qualified lectures at UNZA, without much ado, experience can never be replaced!
So UNILUS picked a number of them and started to slowly develop a formidable law school to compete with the mighty UNZA. And then UNILUS saw a gap with the ZIALE training.
Students who leave university with academic mentality finds it hard to pass ZIALE. There, it is a different ball game! It is the practical side of things, which usually not taught at law schools. So UNILUS introduced a post-law degree course specifically for those who intend to enroll at ZIALE. Am I shocked that they topped the list this time around? Off course not!
Zambia Open University has also attracted a number of students who already deal with the law such as magistrates, prosecutors, court reporters and degree holders in different fields. These find it easier to adjust to the practical side of the study even though they struggle at first-attempt at ZIALE. In recent past, Zambia Open University has produced a good number of students being called to the Bar. This performance is likely to improve as they have equally attracted good lecturers (Some from UNZA).
Back to UNZA Law School. I think they need to adjust and accommodate both full time and part time lecturers as well as allowing more discussions with the industry. At post-graduate level, most UNZA law school graduates (me inclusive) opted for UNILUS for Masters Degree because it is predictable. With your efforts and hard work, you are assured of getting LLM within two years! UNZA may take you forever as lack of supervisors usually hamper the steady progress at post-graduate level.
UNZA must allow non-staff who are specialists in an area to supervise some students so that pressure from existing lecturers is lessen. The management will also need to relax the rigid approach to education if they are to be competitive in market-driven economy!