Foreign Law Degree Holders Are Being Systematically Discouraged From Practicing In Pakistan
The introduction of Law Graduate Assessment Test (Law-Gat) has put a serious question mark on the identity of foreign law graduates, including solicitors and barristers, in Pakistan. The new restriction that has been imposed by the Pakistan Bar council on these students is one of its own kind. It seems to happen for the first time in the world that the students are being tested on what they have never been taught throughout their degree programme or even after.
In order to understand the above-mentioned statements, it is important to have information on how the Law-Gat was being introduced. Initially, a constitutional petition No 9 of 2005 was filed, which was recently taken up by the former Chief Justice of Pakistan, Mr Saqib Nisar. Pursuant to the Legal Education Rules 2015, he constituted a legal education committee whose responsibility was to visit all the private sector law colleges in the country and submit the report on their quality and standards.
While this matter was pending with the apex court, the CMA 3046/18 was filed in order to highlight the discrimination which was being taken place in the country among local and foreign law degree institutions. It claimed that the legal education committee visited all the private sector law degree colleges but did not visit a single foreign law degree institute. Thereafter, the committee submitted the report without including the foreign law degree colleges in regards to their quality and standard of education.
Finally, on 31st August 2018, the three-member bench headed by the then chief justice concluded their judgement in which they introduced Law-Gat, equivalence test and bar vocational course to improve the quality and standard of legal education in Pakistan.
The Pakistan Bar Council and legal education committee have made commendable efforts to come up with the new idea but now it is important to consider whether it is doable or not.
Firstly, the introduction of Law-Gat is practically discouraging for the Pakistani students abroad. This decision also has the effect to change the decision of our current students who are preparing to go abroad for legal studies in September 2019.
It raises a question in their mind that the local law graduates study the subjects of Law-Gat throughout their degree, which make them competent enough to sit for the Law-Gat. However, foreign law degree holders are expected to prepare for the same exam n six months without any additional preparation. The evident discrimination invokes Article 18 of the Constitution, which clearly provides an individual with the freedom of trade, business or profession.
Secondly, the Bar vacation course is again an extraordinary concept introduced by the legal education committee. However, no concept is fruitful until it is initiated. It is important to mention here that even the Bar vacation course and Law-Gat have been introduced enthusiastically but no steps have been taken to establish the training centres and not a single amendment has been proposed for including the provisions of training centre in the legal education rules 2015.
The foreign law degree holders are ask a question to the Pakistan Bar council and HEC that why their degree is being recognised in Pakistan if they want to discourage the foreign law degree holders by imposing unnecessary tests on them. Therefore, if their degree is being recognised then they should be tested on what they have been taught in the foreign universities. Similarly, it will be a clear discrimination if a local law graduate is expected to appear for an exam which is being designed for foreign law graduate.
It will not be wrong to state that there are not many jobs available in the field of law for the law students in Pakistan. If there are no jobs and no training but restrictions on their practice, how will they earn for themselves? Is it not obvious that the situation will provoke them to adopt the wrong path which compels them to earn their livelihood by any means and opportunities available to them or to leave the country in search of a better life?
Lastly, the problem is bigger than it appears from the plain reading of this article. The identity, recognition and knowledge of a foreign law degree holder have always been critiqued. But unfortunately, the critics have once again failed in addressing the main issue, which exist for the last 70 years. Thus, it is the time to address such an important issue in the interest of justice, keeping in mind the limitation we have under the international law. The Pakistan Bar council is requested to find a way to train foreign law degree holders as it is their fundamental right to practice law in Pakistan.
The writer is a Lahore based lawyer who has also filed a writ petition No 15749/19 at the Lahore High Court on the same issue.