By Elias Munshya, LLM, MBA, M.Div.
When the Zambia Institute of Advanced Legal Education (ZIALE) released its results two weeks ago, I expressed my concern at the low passing rate. I am not alone in this concern. Several citizens of this great nation are expressing similar concerns: the low passing rate at ZIALE does not make sense. In the last sitting it was a paltry 18 students out of a possible 206 that passed the bar admission course. This represents about 9% pass rate and a failure rate of 91%. I have been asked some questions. I would like to answer them in turn.
- Do you want ZIALE to pass all of the students? It is not practically desirable for ZIALE to pass all of its students. But a failure rate of 91% does not make sense either. ZIALE does not have to decide between passing everybody and failing everyone. It has the duty to be fair in its teaching methodologies and expectations. Failing 90 out of every 100 students does not make sense.
- What impact if any, does the low calibre of students play in the results at ZIALE? This is perhaps the grand excuse ZIALE is using to justify its high failure rate: student calibre. I agree that some law graduates are of low calibre. But student calibre alone is inadequate to explain a 90% failure rate! ZIALE might be biased against the proliferation of private universities which seem to give law degrees to anyone with a pulse. But ZIALE cannot do indirectly what it cannot do directly. It cannot retaliate against private universities by making it impossible for private university law graduates to pass ZIALE. ZIALE has the duty to provide fair training and education to those students it accepts in its ranks. Some law graduates do not know how to spell or string a sentence together, I do get that. But that would still not explain how 90% of ZIALE students fail.
- Do you want ZIALE to lower standards? ZIALE can raise its passing rate and still uphold high professional standards. It is a false choice, to think that if more people pass at ZIALE then legal standards will be lowered. In fact, a high failing rate could be symptomatic of low standards rather than high standards. ZIALE cannot uphold high professional standards by failing nearly all of its students. Let me hasten to mention one more thing. It is not a sign of progress that 51 years after independence we only have 1,500 lawyers in a population of 15 million. Limiting the number of lawyers in a country that needs more lawyers is ridiculous.
- How can you criticise ZIALE when you have never been a student there? We daily criticise President Lungu, and yet 99.99% of us have never been president before. You do not need to be part of a public body in order to criticise that public body. As an ordinary citizen of our republic, I have the right and responsibility to hold public bodies to account. Those public bodies include statutory creatures such as ZIALE and the Law Association of Zambia (LAZ). Public bodies are not above the law, common sense or fairness. Public bodies are not beyond criticism. Zambians question the president and the parliament daily, why should ZIALE believe that it cannot be questioned?
- Why are you more concerned about lawyers and not medical doctors? It is true that in Zambia, there is a shortage of both medical doctors and lawyers. In fact, Zambia faces a deficit in nearly all professions. I leave the issue of doctor shortage to those who are eminently qualified to tackle the issue than I am. As a legal professional myself, lawyer shortage in Zambia might be more visible to me than other professions. Interestingly though, it appears like the University of Zambia School of Medicine graduates more doctors than does ZIALE. More graduates of the Schools of Medicine actually get the licence to practice medicine than do ZIALE students. The shortage of doctors in Zambia has nothing to do with failure rates at UNZA, but has everything to do with graduates leaving for greener pastures. ZIALE on the other hand just does not pass enough lawyers. If Zambia faces a shortage of professionals it should never be because our schools are not passing enough professions, as is the case with ZIALE.
- What do you have to say about other ZIALE programs? Ironically, ZIALE records almost 100% pass rate in the other professional courses it provides. Statutory bodies such as National Pension Scheme Authority (NAPSA) have the authority to prosecute those who do not comply with the NAPSA Act. NAPSA sends its prosecutors to ZIALE for training. Almost all of the prosecutors sent to ZIALE by NAPSA do pass the ZIALE prosecutor’s exams. What is true for NAPSA is also true for other bodies such as ZESCO, ECZ and other bodies. There can only be one explanation for the discrepancy in the pass rates between the bar exam and the other programs provided by ZIALE: when NAPSA sends its prosecutors to ZIALE, it makes it very clear to ZIALE, that the students need to be taught and trained and not tricked and trimmed.
- Would you consider enrolling at ZIALE? This question is brewed within the “nchekelako” culture. A culture that seeks to corrupt all those that criticise public bodies. The reason why I am dramatizing ZIALE is not so that I can benefit from it, but rather so that ZIALE serves the public good of Zambians. It is not for me, but for our people. I am grateful for the bar admission process I am currently undergoing in the jurisdiction of Alberta. It is stringent, stressful but quite fulfilling. But my passion still remains for many of our people in Zambia who need legal representation. Currently, the entire provinces of Luapula, Northern, Eastern, Muchinga, and Western provinces do not have a single private lawyer operating there. This is unacceptable. ZIALE plays a huge role in determining who gets to have the certificate to practice. It must be held accountable.
- What is the way forward? The legal profession is by nature quite arrogant, egoistic and ironically, very faithful to tradition. Lawyers do not like to change and they never enjoy change. The legal profession subsists on stare decisis (Do what Lord Diplock said in 1960). I do not believe change in Zambia should be left in the hands of lawyers alone. Any changes at ZIALE can only be effected by political and legislative action. Our parliamentarians must be stern on ZIALE so that it effects the changes needed. If ZIALE does not change, our parliament can remove its monopoly and perhaps create several provincial bodies that would train lawyers. I would be very reluctant myself, to propose this as a solution, but if our profession does not change, then politicians will have to intervene. But we have a choice to make to keep the integrity of a self-governing profession.
Suggested citation: Munshya, E. (2015) On ZIALE: Questions, concerns and the way forward. Elias Munshya Blog (www.eliasmunshya.org) (November 25, 2015)