President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo says the discussion on expanding access to legal education in Ghana should not be pursued at the expense of quality.
He argued that compromising the quality of legal training to give more people access to legal education would jeopardize the safety, development and prosperity of the country.
“I do believe personally that in opening up opportunity, there should be no compromise on quality.
“A badly trained lawyer is a danger to the society. A badly trained lawyer can cause untold damage to life and property. A badly trained lawyer will bring the legal profession into disrepute, much faster than any revolution,” he said.
The President was speaking at Legon on Monday at the opening of a four-day International Conference on the future of legal education in Ghana and Africa being organized by the University of Ghana School of Law.
The conference, which brings together Dean’s and lecturers of Law Schools from the sub-region, including Nigeria, The Gambia, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire, will serve as a catalyst for action to strengthen the rule of law and a functioning judiciary throughout africa.
The conference, which will also focus on regional exchanges of experiences on the rule of law and justice, will explore topics such as the policy, legal, management and the ethical frameworks of legal education, as well as cover curriculum development, teaching methodologies and resources for legal education.
Addressing the recent vexed issue of legal education in the country and the proliferation of law faculties running law programmes with its attendant lowering of standards for admission and examinations of students, President Akufo-Addo emphasised that the quality of training in the law profession must be given the highest priority.
He noted that apart from the arguments that there were not enough physical structures to accomodate the growing numbers of law students, “we must ensure that there are accomplished leaders to teach the courses.”
“I do not break any secret, I’m sure, if I say here, that some of the new faculties are struggling because they do not have enough qualified law teachers.
“No matter how good the lecturers at Legon are, and they are good, a lecturer at the law faculty here cannot adequately teach all the courses for all the universities for which he has learnt his name for accreditation.”
The President insisted that whatever system Ghana sets up, the country must train educated lawyers “who know the law.”
He said anyone licensed to practice the legal profession must have a firm grip of the law and “We must ensure that such a person is trained to have the discipline and integrity that go with being a lawyer.”
“Such a person must be confident and able to challenge his colleagues anywhere in the world,” he stressed.
President Akufo-Addo noted that many African nations had signed away their rights and riches because they did not have matching representation when they dealt with the international community on transactions or diplomatic exchanges.
He said many of the governance problems in Africa stemmed from the non availability of lawyers along the beauricratic chain, agreeing that more lawyers were needed.
The President however stressed that if the search for justice in the courts of law had motivated many to seek legal education, “we should be able to maintain the momentum of these eager minds and not frustrate them.
He stated that a reform of the system, under which legal education currently operates in Ghana, is necessary to accommodate current realities, adding that the new system should have to be guided by a strong element of sustainability.
“Sustainable legal education will have, as its base, the establishment of a regime that will consider the pressing needs of the growing law student population and the expected demands of the generation unborn that will study law. It will be qualitative in its operation, but with a fair and balanced quantitative selection system”.
The President also stressed that the reform of the system “must also streamline the regulatory dualism between the Ghana Tertiary Education Commission and the General Legal Council when it comes to legal education. I have to restate my conviction that the General Legal Council must have the final say. “
He indicated that he had already asked the Attorney-General to fast-track the balance of consultations on the Legal Profession Bill, and lay it before Cabinet and, ultimately, Parliament as soon as possible for enactment.
“This Bill aims to address comprehensively the issues of legal education in Ghana today. It must dispel the notion that the legal profession is a guild, a small club of mostly men, which is difficult to penetrate,” he said.
President Akufo-Addo, nonetheless, indicated that even if the new Legal Profession Act, which was under consideration, provided for a multiplicity of law schools to regulate the teaching of the professional examinations, and break the monopoly of the General Legal Council in that regard, “there can be no substitute for the General Legal Council being responsible for the maintenance of standards in the new system”.
He was hopeful that new Legal Profession Act and the various Regulations, that would result from it “will bring the many issues surrounding legal education in Ghana to fruitful resolution once and for all, at least for this generation”.
The President later launched an endowment fund for the University of Ghana School of Law.
He contributed an amount of GHS100, 000 to the fund, and urged other stakeholder entities to do same to boost the quality of legal education in the country.