Bar Finals: ‘The system should reformed and overhauled’

The Controversies surrounding Vocational Exams

Qs & As

By Lex

Entering the legal, judiciary or notarial profession is a narrow doorway guarded by examinations which are under the responsibility of the Council for Vocational and Legal Education (CVLE). These are costly affairs that have often been decried as unduly restrictive, with high failure rates, without appropriate results analysis, guidance or commentary that could serve both students and their teaching staff. It is time to find more suitable alternatives says Lex in his commentary below.

* Getting through the vocational course for law practitioners in order to qualify as a barrister, attorney or even – the hardest of the lot – as a public notary appears to be a very tall order for the majority of students. Failure rate is quite high, and though exam results of recent past years show an improvement in performance, it still appears to be a hard nut to crack for most students. Isn’t that the way it should be?

If there is one thing for which the Council for Vocational and Legal Education (CVLE) is recognised for, it is the high rate of failure at each examination held year in and year out. This baffles not only students but also lecturers. It should not be forgotten that the fees for following the CVLE course runs into Rs 100,000 annuallyand examinationfees come to about Rs 50,000.

Can one imagine a student coming from a modest family background having to attempt the examinations four times or more and spend nearly half a million rupees without being told why he failed the exams? What is the standard that the examiners expect?

* Lots of students would like to believe that the level of the exams is so high as to set students up to fail – for different reasons. The Vocational Council of Legal Education may rightly want to uphold the standard and reputation of the profession, and students need therefore to study hard to make it at the exams. Isn’t that the bottom line?

What standard are we talking about here? The standard of the profession in general? The standard of the judiciary? The standard of the office of the Attorney General or that of the DPP?

It is up to the CVLE, presided by Judges, to set up the standard, and communicatewhat they expect of students.

A lecturer may tell the students about the standard required of them, but that standard may not satisfy the Judges/Examiners. A lecturer may suggest solutions to questions set in past examination papers, but those answers may not satisfy the standard of the learned Judges/Examiners.

We are waddling in total opacity to the detriment not only of students but also of the country. People outside will also judge our rate of failure and ask themselves what kind of would-be lawyers we are training.

* Students, even those who study hard, need to understand why they fail the exams. Shouldn’t the examiners’ report on the Bar Finals exams be made available to students? Why should the reports be kept confidential?

It would be important for the CVLE to publish a short annual report on the performance of students at the examinations with explanations of what was expected of them and where the pitfalls lay. Without such a report, students and lecturers would always be in the dark as to what is expected of students.

For too long has so much opacity surrounded these examinations conducted by the CVLE. It is high time for a more transparent culture to see the day in the interest of the examiners, the teaching staff and the country. The disastrous results reflect badly on the country and the profession as a whole.

* By the way, it would appear that the examiners’ reports for police promotional exams are also not made available to police officers who sit for the exams conducted for aspiring sergeants and police inspectors. Are there some good reasons why those reports should not be madepublic?

This question is best addressed to those responsible for holding the police promotional exams. But the lack of transparency could lead to suspicions thatthere might be other considerations that would prevail.

* It appears that many law graduates who can afford the cost of the training prefer to complete their Bar Finals in England. We also understand that French Bar, New Zealand Bar, Australian Bar and Canadian Bar are also recognised in Mauritius. The question is how come students make it successfully outside Mauritius that which they would otherwise be unable to do here?

The temptation would be great to say that the methods of teaching may be different, but that could be so in some butnot in all cases. In these countries students can easily get access to past exam papers or even suggested answers and reports on past exams. This means that they are in a position to know what is expected of them.

There is always the possibility of failure or success at exams, and the odds between failure and success are usually well balanced in most jurisdictions. It would appear that the odds here are more in favour of failure rather than in a reasonable prospect of success.

* The Bar Finals exams fall under the aegis of the Vocational Council of Legal Education (Supreme Court) and are at the end of a 8-9 months highly intensive practical training conducted by the University of Mauritius in approximately 15 subjects. Is there the risk of a lowering of standard if the exams were to come under the responsibility of the University of Mauritius?

The level of exams held at the University of Mauritius is high and the level of teaching cannot be faulted with. The rate of failure, if any, is very low. The vocational examinations started following a report by late Justice RajsoomerLallah. It was considered at the initial stage that the responsibility for holding the exams should be left to judges.

The paradigm has now changed. Judges are overloaded with work at the judicial level; on top of that some of the judges take arbitration work or chair commissions of inquiry. With such a heavy workload, can one reasonably expect them to devote to the preparation of examinations and the supervision of the markings of scripts?

* In many other jurisdictions, administering bar exams is the responsibility of the bar association in the particular state or territory concerned. Would it serve the interest of the profession if the Bar Finals should come under the responsibility of the Mauritius Law Society, the Bar Association and the Association desnotaires?

Certainly not. The responsibility for teaching should remain with the University of Mauritius, but the system should be reformed and overhauled. Or the responsibility may be given to the Institute of Judicial and Legal Studies (IJLS) with a creation of a new unit that would be responsible for teaching and the holding of examinations.

* Do the students have some responsibility in relation to the rate of failure?

Besidesthe systemic features of the CVLE exams that lead to such a high rate of failure, one should nevertheless not minimise the responsibility of students. Many of themattend a limited numberof lectures so as to obtain an effective presence rate of 80%, which makes them eligible for taking the exams. Once they qualify forthe certificate of presence, many of them do not bother to attend any more lectures.


* Published ePaper on 18 March 2022

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