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It is unjust and unfair in giving such a short notice about changes in format for the Criminal Procedure paper for the Certificate of Legal Practice examination (CLP) that was posted on Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB) last week, despite such short notice, the changes of which will be implemented effective in the exams in August.

The recent change concerns the Criminal Procedure paper, in which CLP candidates had hitherto been allowed to answer 4 questions out of a choice of 7 in total, but will now require candidates to answer one compulsory question out of the 4 questions that they will be answering.

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 5 papers.

After all, even prior to the recent changes, candidates had always been left somewhat in the dark about what to expect in the papers, 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

However, 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 would there be uniformity, quality and transparency when there are different exams for students from local universities, semi- government universities and then there is the CLP exams which is an external 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.

Tan Sri 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 appropriate reform, should be thus:

(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 to sit, 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 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 now allowed to be reviewed and examiner’s reports are not provided.

Moreover, CLP exams is over-reliant on memorization and regurgitation.

As Lady Justice, our beautiful personification of what the Law looks like, best illustrates, the 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 geography of their education, instead of a universalized 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?

Which, inevitably, brings one to question whether the LPQB truly has got 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 well 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 t hat levels the playing field, not a change that makes the field more uneven.

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