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Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The CLP exam – reform the system, not the paper

There is need for change that levels the playing field, not change that makes the field more uneven, including introducing a common bar exam for all aspiring lawyers regardless of where they are educated.
COMMENT
bar-examBy Teoh King Men
It is unjust and unfair to give such short notice about changes in format for the criminal procedure paper for the Certificate of Legal Practice examination (CLP) that was posted on the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB) last week. Despite such short notice, the changes will be implemented for the exams in August.
For the criminal procedure paper, CLP candidates had hitherto been allowed to answer four questions out of a choice of seven in total. But now they will be required to answer one compulsory question out of the four questions.
The LPQB had a meeting on the reformatting in December 2016, but, it was only announced many months later. There could not have been any reasonable expectation that tutors and candidates for the CLP exams would have had enough time to re-adapt their approach to the criminal procedure paper. Candidates should not have to fret over an additional burden when they already have to reckon with the requirement of passing all five papers.
After all, even prior to the recent changes, candidates had always been left somewhat in the dark about what to expect, and knew with certainty only that they had thick bulks of legal material to learn within a stressfully short span of time.
Reform the system, not the paper
This is not to suggest that there should be no changes per se; in fact, major reforms should be encouraged in the certification of Malaysia’s aspiring lawyers-to-be.
How can there be uniformity, quality and transparency when there are different exams for students from local universities, semi-government universities, and CLP exams for foreign law graduates?
The focus of the LPQB should not be to make exams harder for some candidates than for others – as the board has done – but to make exams consistent with a set standard for all candidates in the country. With this in mind, one can scarcely spot even a hint of meritocracy in the LPQB’s system of certification for overseas law students.
Mohamed Apandi Ali, the attorney-general, who also currently holds the chair in the LPQB, should look into the matter and implement the necessary reforms.
The reforms should be:
i) To establish an independent committee to peruse the syllabus, decide on a set framework of exam questions, and enforce a consistency of criteria and standards;
ii) To act as reviewers so as to ensure that examiners who set the questions adhere to agreed-upon standards; and
iii) To implement a common bar exam for all aspiring lawyers, in order to uphold meritocratic standards of certification to candidates across all backgrounds of undergraduate law degrees, whether locally or overseas, publicly or privately educated.
Out with the CLP, in with the Common Bar
A consensus can be easily found among those who have sat for the CLP exams that there is indeed a strong case to be made for scrapping the CLP and asking that a bar exam common to all be administered instead. Another reason is the blatant lack of transparency, as exam papers are not allowed to be reviewed and examiner’s reports are not provided.
Moreover, the CLP exam is over-reliant on memorisation and regurgitation.
As Lady Justice, our beautiful personification of what the law looks like, best illustrates, law should be blind; how can the law be trusted to be carried out justly if the precursor to the law is itself not blind, but discriminatory on the basis of where one is educated?
If some lawyers are to be certified differently from others simply because of an arbitrary factor such as the geographical location of their education, instead of a universalised standard to reach professional excellence, then how can we say with any level of seriousness that our lawyers are all consistently qualified, or that in Malaysia the word ‘qualification’ means anything useful at all to those who seek justice?
This inevitably brings one to question whether the LPQB truly has its priorities set straight? The CLP might be certifying people who are huge memory hubs and not enough people who understand the law and have the practical know-how to best serve their future clients. While legal knowledge most definitely is best assessed on paper for the LPQB, it is worth a consideration to introduce a practical element to the certification process so that new lawyers will already be well-equipped when they begin their legal practice or chambering stages, and above all, ensuring that clients can be confident that their lawyers are adept and efficient.
This is why change – the right kind of change – is badly needed to set the balance back in equilibrium. It must be a change that levels the playing field, not a change that makes the field more uneven.
Teoh King Men is an FMT reader.

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