By S.R. Balgopal
Prospective students following the Council of Legal Education Course have no doubt welcomed the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill which was introduced in the National Assembly on 17 May 2011. This Bill is in line with the government’s objective of bringing reform in the judicial system of Mauritius.
A modern legal system calls for law practitioners who are in touch with latest developments and it is apposite that the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill provides for the introduction of continuing professional development programmes for the three branches of the profession. Clause 9, of the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill provides as follows:
“9B. Continuing Professional Development
(1) The Institute shall devise, organise and conduct Continuing Professional Development Programmes for each of the three branches of the legal profession with a view to broadening the knowledge of law practitioners and legal officers, keeping them abreast of developments in the law, encouraging them to share experiences and enhancing their professional skills.
(2) A Programme referred to in subsection (1) may include attendance at such lectures, workshops or seminars, as may be approved by the Institute.
(3) Every law practitioner and legal officer shall, in every year, follow a Continuing Professional Development Programme for the prescribed number of hours unless he is excused by the Chief Justice for reasons such as proven ability and experience, age, ill health or unavoidable professional commitments.
(4) Notwithstanding section 13, where a person referred to in subsection (3) fails, without reasonable excuse, to follow a Continuing Professional Development Programme, the Institute may –
(a) in the case of a legal officer, report the matter to the
Judicial and Legal Service Commission; and
(b) in the case of a law practitioner, refer the matter to the
Chief Justice who may –
(A) issue a written warning to him; or
(B) suspend his right to practise for a period not
exceeding one year.”
A cursory reading of the above confirms the clear intention of the government to have a pool of law practitioners who are ready to meet the challenges of a competitive world where the services sector, including legal services and the financial services sector, will be expected to spearhead the growth of the Mauritian economy. The courses referred to in clause 9B of the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill will be delivered by the Institute for Judicial and Legal Studies which will be established under clause 3 of the Institute for Judicial and Legal Studies Bill which was introduced in Parliament on 17 May 2011 by the Attorney-General. A number of laws have been enacted and introduced by the Attorney-General since his assumption of duty.
There is no doubt that the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill embodies this government’s promise of “putting people” first. A number of representations have been made very vocally in the press in the last two years by students following vocational courses at the Council of Legal Education in Mauritius. The number of highly qualified students who failed this course in the past two years defies belief and many students who have failed vocational courses in Mauritius, financial resources permitting, have proceeded to the United Kingdom and passed their vocational courses with flying colours. Students of the local vocational courses met the Attorney-General and the latter has finally responded to their concerns. These students will welcome the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill which provides that accredited persons, including the University of Mauritius, will be able to run vocational courses and conduct examinations for prospective law practitioners — under the supervision of the Council of Legal Education which will monitor standards. Such is the case in the UK where the General Council of the Bar or the Law Society, as the case may be, approves institutions which run vocational courses as well as their syllabuses and ensures that minimum standards are met. At no point in time do these professional bodies run examinations or mark examination papers.
With the amendments being brought to the Law Practitioners Act, it is to be expected that the course which will be delivered will be skills-based, as it obtains in the UK, rather than knowledge-based, as it obtains in Mauritius. Prospective law practitioners will no doubt welcome the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill in view of the fact that they may expect to receive training along the lines of continuing professional training available in the UK. The amendments most pertinent to professional courses in the Law (Practitioners) Amendment Bill are set out in clause 12A of the Bill, which is reproduced below:
“12A. Accredited persons
(1) No person, other than an accredited person, shall run a vocational course, or hold himself out, by advertisement or otherwise, as being a person who runs or is entitled to run a vocational course.
(2) Any person, other than the University of Mauritius, wishing to be an accredited person shall make a written request to the Council, accompanied by the prescribed application fee, and furnish to the Council such information as the Council may require regarding his or its ability to run a vocational course.
(3) The Council shall, on receipt of a request under subsection (2), make such enquiry as it thinks fit and may, on payment of the prescribed accreditation fee, authorise the person to run such vocational courses as it may approve.
(4) An accredited person shall, where required by the Council to do so, run a vocational course in accordance with section 5.14
(5) An accredited person, other than the University of Mauritius, shall not require any person to pay a fee in excess of such amount as may be prescribed for the purpose of following a vocational course.
(6) The Council may, where an accredited person other than the University of Mauritius contravenes subsection (4) or (5), suspend or revoke an authorisation granted pursuant to subsection (3).
(7) Where an accredited person runs a vocational course, the Council may –
(a) require the accredited person to submit its syllabus or programme to it for approval; and
(b) make such arrangements as it thinks fit to supervise the running of the course or the holding of examinations.”
The above amendments will achieve a number of objectives, including:
(a) relieving Supreme Court Judges of the burdensome and time-consuming task of setting examination papers and marking them; (it would be rare to find any country where the Judiciary, at the highest level, or at any level for that matter, is entrusted with the function of running vocational courses for prospective law practitioners);
(b) providing a professional set-up for vocational courses;
(c) allowing students to be taught by accredited bodies which will be accountable to the Council of Legal Education in so far as the syllabus and the minimum standards to be achieved by students is concerned;
(d) removing an anachronism whereby the Judiciary is involved in carrying out professional vocational courses;
(e) satisfying students who have, over the years, been desperate for a change in professional legal examinations carried out in Mauritius.
One major blot in the Law Practitioners (Amendment) Bill is the fact that age seems to be a requirement in the following respects:
(a) Qualify as a notary public (vide a minimum required age of 25 years before being admitted as a notary public, (vide clause 4(2)(a)(ii)(a) of the Bill)
(b) Minimum standing of 15 years practice before the Supreme Court as barrister or attorney as a condition precedent to being appointed senior counsel or senior attorney, (vide clause 8(c)(2) of the Bill)
The above clauses are in contradiction with the famous quote of Pierre Corneille in “Le Cid” which reads as follows:
“Aux âmes bien nées, la valeur n’attend point le nombre des années.”
It is debatable whether age should be a requirement in relation to the above clauses. It is all the more surprising that the Attorney-General is himself a young barrister and he is piloting a Bill where age is a requirement in relation to being admitted as a notary, senior counsel and senior attorney. The Law Practitioners Bill is yet to be debated and it is possible to remedy these anachronisms of a different age when number of years mattered more than merit.
The Attorney-General has set the ball rolling in terms of his reform to the Law Practitioners Act. His track record, so far, is a fairly reliable indication that he will stick to his word given to students and that he will not waver in his course of action. His legislative action since his assumption of office is testimony to his determination to deliver on his promises.
* Published in print edition on 17 June 2011