Thirteen law graduates from Gulu and Cavendish universities have won a High court case in which they sued the Law Development Centre (LDC) and Law Council for stopping them from sitting pre-entry examinations for admission to the bar course.
The court awarded a total of Shs 260 million to the petitioners in compensation. In their applications, the students indicated that LDC said law programmes at Gulu and Cavendish were not accredited by the Law Council despite clearance from the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE).
In a 26-page ruling delivered by Judge Henrietta Wolayo of the civil division of the High court on October 26, the conduct of the Law Council was found to be “arbitrary and irrational.”
“By preventing the applicants from sitting pre-entry exams in an arbitrary and irrational manner, Law Council is liable in damages for denying the applicants an opportunity to advance to the next stage in their legal career,” Justice Wolayo ruled.
The students wanted court to compel LDC to admit them for the 2017/18 intake, or alternatively allow them to sit the examination.
However, Wolayo agreed with their lawyers that it would be illogical to order Law Council to give them special exams now since the bar course is already ongoing.
“I will award a sum of Shs 20,000,000 to each applicant to be paid by the Attorney General and Law Council,” she said.
“A permanent injunction shall be issued restraining Law Council from preventing the applicants current and future graduates of Gulu and Cavendish universities who successfully complete their law degrees, to sit pre-entry.”
Gulu University’s Alex Asiimwe Byaruhanga said: “What is important is not the money but joining LDC. I can’t wait for the opportunity to join LDC next year as granted to us by the judge.”
Wolayo said while the pre-entry examination is set by the Law Council under the Advocates Act (Legal notices 12 of 2010 and 17 of 2007), it does not mean that the council’s committee on legal education and training can whimsically lock out qualified law graduates from sitting the exam.
Quoting Section 8(5) of the Advocates Act 2002, as amended, she noted that “… persons eligible for admission to the bar course include a holder of a degree in law granted by a university in Uganda.”
She added that since the Advocates Act makes no reference to “an approved university or law programme,” it does not have force of law to block students.
To the extent that rule 10 of legal notice 17 of 2007 acknowledges that persons with degrees from institutions under the Universities and Other Tertiary Institutions Act, 2006 (UOTIA) are eligible for admission to the bar course, the Law Council exceeded its authority under the law.
“As a body tasked with the responsibility to maintain high standards of professionalism in the legal profession, the committee has a higher burden than anyone else to observe the rule of law,” the judge said.
While the judge agreed that LDC was rightly sued, she, quickly, added that it had no hand in the impugned decision by Law Council. Gulu and Cavendish students had filed separate applications but on September 15, 2017, a consensus was reached by all parties and court to consolidate the applications because of their commonality.
The applicants from Gulu University are Alex Asiimwe Byaruhanga, Emmanuel Odit, Prossy Akello, Susan Anena, Sancha Magdalene Mugala, Andrew Ogwetta Otto and Samuel Odyek.
They were represented by Rwaganika, Baku & Co. Advocates. Cavendish University Uganda applicants represented by Lufunya Associated Advocates and Solicitors are Jackline Nabuuma, Rebecca Mweru Kabejja, Ronald Kitonsa, Julian Atube Akello, Elizabeth Phiona Achola and Cathy Jackie Mwosana.
According to Wolayo, the absence of a framework between Law Council and NCHE for the consultative process to accredit law programmes led to the dispute.
“That said, the failure of NCHE and Law Council to implement their respective mandates in compliance with section 3(d) (ii) should not be visited on the applicants,” she ruled.
She added that while the Law Council is mandated by law to participate in the accreditation process before a university is accredited to teach law, the issuance of a charter or license is the responsibility of the NCHE under the UOTIA.
Wolayo ordered NCHE and the Law Council to develop a framework within 90 days from the date of her ruling for consultations on the law curriculum for universities in accordance with section 3 (d) (ii) and 119 A of the UOTIA 2006.
Yesterday, NCHE legal officer, Fiona Kunihira said: “The ruling has not yet been brought to my attention; so, I cannot make a comment on it”.
Meanwhile, The Observer has learnt that the attorney general filed a notice of appeal at the civil division of the High court on October 30, 2017, challenging the ruling.
“We, the 2nd respondent being dissatisfied with the decision in this matter,” reads the notice signed by Ojiambo Bichachi for the solicitor general, “… do intend to appeal against the whole decision and the orders therein. We thus do kindly request for a copy of typed proceedings and ruling in this matter.”