Council for Legal Education tightens conditions for foreign law school graduates
THE Council for Legal Education (CLE) has tightened conditions for graduates with foreign-acquired law degrees seeking to practise in the country.
Statutory Instrument 111 of 2016 gazetted the University of Zimbabwe and the Midlands State University as the only institutions whose students were granted automatic nod by the CLE to start working in the country after graduating.
The CLE is a statutory body whose mandate is to ensure high standards of legal education in the country.
CLE secretary Mr Innocent Mawire said the new measures have been effected for quality control purposes and not to bar anyone from practising law in Zimbabwe. He said the law would not be applied in retrospect.
Previously qualifications from the University of Zambia, and law schools from Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland and the United Kingdom were approved, but holders of the degrees had to write conversion tests.
Under the latest measures, graduates from foreign universities would not receive a blanket approach. Applicants would be treated on a case by case basis by the CLE to decide if they qualify to write conversion tests.
Mr Mawire said under the new regulations, law diplomas from the United Kingdom were no longer recognised in the country.
“There are two main reasons which informed this amendment. The first one, in 2014 South Africa convened what they called the LLB summit where they expressed serious reservations about the quality of legal education in South Africa. So as the council we said if the country of origin has a problem with its own quality of education why should we automatically designate those qualifications. Let’s approach them on a case by case basis,” said Mr Mawire.
“Then the second reason is that the previous SI also recognised diplomas from the UK, so you could go to London, do your two year diploma and come back to practise in Zimbabwe, which was far below the standards.”
Mr Mawire said previously there were standard courses for foreign qualifications but now graduates would be assessed through their results on the transcript.
He said they were also going to review the number of subjects law students had to write.
The new regulations also affect law students undergoing part time lectures at the University of Zimbabwe.
According to the Statutory Instrument, only full time students from the UZ and the Midlands State University have automatic entry into law practice. Part time graduates have to undertake conversion tests.
“As for part time graduates, the UZ has to apply for designation. First place they have to approach the council that we are offering this degree and we are subjecting ourselves to scrutiny to see if we meet the required standards. The implication is that it will be treated like any other foreign qualification,” said Mr Mawire.
He said they were still monitoring the Hebert Chitepo Law School at Great Zimbabwe University and Ezekiel Guti University until their first graduations.
Law Society of Zimbabwe president Mrs Vimbai Nyemba welcomed the new SI saying it was meant to maintain standards of the profession.
“It’s always been the norm that students undertake conversion examinations but the whole idea is to maintain standards. The designation of UZ and MSU means all other universities have not been designated and their graduates have to undergo conversion tests just like those from foreign universities,” said Mrs Nyemba.
Prominent lawyer Mr Tendai Biti said the net effect of the statutory instrument was that only the UZ and MSU were being trusted as they can practise straightaway. He said: “Basically what they are saying is you can do your law degree anywhere in the world or in the country but we don’t trust them, they are not good enough other than those from UZ and MSU.” -@AuxiliaK