Citation(2005) 17 SAcLJ 913
Date01 December 2005
Published date01 December 2005

Public law schools in Malaysia have played the important roles of producing locally-trained legal personnel in Malaysia. They are under the supervision of the Legal Qualifying Board as the Board is entrusted with the task of maintaining the standard of legal education and training in Malaysia. The main challenge is to maintain the standard of legal education in the scenario where there is a deteriorating level of English language proficiency among law students, the need to provide adequate training for the teaching staff and the need to include members of the profession to participate in the teaching and learning process. Issues related to globalisation and the advancement of technology are also touched.

I. Introduction

1 There are four public law schools in Malaysia and another two have recently commenced operation.1 There are more private colleges and universities that offer external law degrees and twinning law programme. There are also hundreds of Malaysian students studying law in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and even Japan. Every year, not less than 1,000 law graduates enter the market in all branches of the profession be it in the public or the private sector. The underlying issue is: Is the standard of law graduates being maintained? This paper will seek to evaluate the present scenario of legal education in the public law schools and to see whether high standards are maintained in the teaching and learning process in ensuring that law graduates from public law schools achieve reasonable standards of excellence.

II. Admission and entry qualifications

2 The Legal Profession Qualifying Board (“the Qualifying Board”), formed under the Legal Profession Act 19762 to oversee matters pertaining to the legal profession in Malaysia, imposed new criteria with effect from 1 October 1998 for the recognition of any law degree. The new criteria require candidates to obtain at least three credits in one Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (“SPM”) examination and the minimum of two subjects at the principal level of the Sijil Tinggi Persekolahan Malaysia (“STPM”) before they are allowed to sit for the Certificate of Legal Practice (“CLP”). Even though these criteria are meant for graduates from universities in the UK, the Qualifying Board was of the view that these minimum criteria are also applicable to entry into local public universities and were the right step to ensure quality candidates in the public law schools in the country.

3 There are two methods of admission into the programme: SPM holders are admitted into the Pre-Law or Matriculation Law programme, while direct-entry students are holders of STPM or A-Level certificate or equivalent. Only the International Islamic University Malaysia (“IIUM”) and the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (“UiTM”) have Pre-Law programmes in operation while the University Malaya (“UM”) and Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (“UKM”) are no longer operating such a programme. The Ministry of Higher Education (“MOHE”) has recently approved the operation of a Matriculation Law programme to cater for the UM and UKM law schools and this is a welcome decision in the light of dwindling numbers of Malay and native (bumiputra) admission into these law schools.

4 In ensuring that high-quality students are entering the Pre-Law programme, both IIUM and UiTM have imposed very high qualification requirements in selecting candidates into the programme. Candidates are chosen from the merit list provided by the MOHE and the merit list is based on achievements during the SPM examination and on candidates having chosen IIUM or UiTM as the preferred institution. IIUM, for instance, requires candidates to score a very good credit in English and at least a credit in Mathematics. Successful candidates will undergo at least one year Pre-Law in the respective institutions.

5 For direct-entry candidates, a very good result at the STPM examination will put them in a better position to be selected. Since the introduction of the “meritocracy” system, candidates of all races are to compete on a level playing field. Candidates into the Law programmes at UM and UKM are selected based on the merit list provided by the MOHE. IIUM and UiTM also accept direct-entry students in their programmes but in a very limited number. IIUM, for instance, only takes about 10% of its students directly into its LLB programme and that includes STPM, A-Level, diploma and mature students, as well as a small percentage of foreign students. 90% of its LLB students come from its Matriculation Law programme.

6 The Pre-Law programme at IIUM concentrates on improving the English language command of its students. It also teaches basic law courses such as Introduction to Law, Legal History, Law and Society, Legal Research and basic Islamic Law. Even though basic law courses are taught at this level, the emphasis has been on the usage of the English language in the law subjects rather than on the substantive law itself. The objective is to expose students with the correct use of legal language before fully embarking into the real Law programme. The same applies to the UiTM Pre-Law programme except that UiTM also teaches human sciences subjects like Psychology, Sociology and Economics to their Pre-Law students.

7 The main challenge of the Pre-Law programme is to prepare students with the language tools and skills that will make them successful law students. IIUM’s biggest problem is English language proficiency among its students. It is not a simple task to improve the proficiency of students who are the product of a school system that uses Bahasa Melayu for 11 years prior to their entry into a Pre-Law programme that is conducted fully in English. It is found that many students with a distinction or a very good credit in the English language at SPM level struggle with the command of the English language in the Matriculation programme. The reason is multifarious. One of the reasons is too much emphasis on examination techniques and obtaining good results in the national examination so much so that practical and day-to-day English usage has been largely ignored. In other words, students study English for the sake of passing examinations and not for the purpose of commanding a better proficiency in the language. The Government has taken concrete steps to arrest the decline of the English language in the country and one of the steps is to require all students to sit for the Malaysian Universities English Test (“MUET”) before they can be admitted into a selected programme. For Law, a MUET placement of “Band 3” has been set as the

minimum standard. At the same time, UM and UKM have widened the use of English in teaching and learning at both law faculties.

8 The other problem is that some students in the Pre-Law and Law programmes are not interested in doing a law degree. Due to parental and peer pressure, they do not embark into the Law programme whole-heartedly. A random interview conducted recently by the Department of Law, IIUM Matriculation Centre, on 30 students who obtained below the minimum Grade Point Average of 2.0 after the semestral examination found that at least 13 students admitted that law was not their main interest. They were requested and, in some cases, “forced” by their parents to pursue the programme. Some were very uncertain about their choice of academic programme and chose Law because their close friends persuaded them to join the programme. As an academic administrator, the writer has also come across a few students who were dismissed from the programme and were applying to be re-admitted — Law was not their first choice. It was either that their parents were forcing them to read law or that they were following their peers. Although the percentage of this type of students is small, the implication is that they tend to be mediocre and many of them fail and are dismissed. It is proposed that MOHE should allow law schools to interview them to ascertain their aptitude and interest in the Law programme.

III. Law curriculum

9 The Qualifying Board requires that a law school curriculum should comprise six compulsory law courses, namely, Contract, Tort, Constitutional Law, Criminal Law, Land Law and Law of Equity and Trust. It is further required that a law degree programme should offer at least 12 courses. The Qualifying Board proposed that the 12 compulsory courses that should be included in the programme be, Islamic law or a component of it such as Islamic Family Law, Jurisprudence, Contract, Tort, Criminal Law, Land Law, Equity and Trust, Malaysian Legal System, Company Law, Constitutional Law and Public International Law. Recently, Public International Law has been made compulsory in the four law schools after a position paper was put forth to the MOHE by the former Dean, Law Faculty, UM, the late Prof Mimi Kamariah.3 The objective was to provide the undergraduates with the necessary skills on

International Law so that they are reasonably competent to deal with international law issues at regional and global levels. Basic knowledge of this discipline is thus important to reach such a goal.

10 The minimum requirement of compulsory courses has provided the necessary uniformity at the course-offering level in the four law schools. Nonetheless, course content has been within the purview of each law school. Being the oldest law school, UM Law School’s curriculum has been emulated, but over the years, other law schools have found their own directions. There have been complaints about certain law schools teaching less than other law schools for the same subject, or that the course content in one law school differs substantially from another. For the sake of quality, this is not a healthy trend. Through meetings of law deans, efforts have been taken to iron out discrepancies in the course content in the law curricula at the public law schools. The first effort was that made in 1997 to unify the content of...

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