MARCH 21 — Recently, the Malaysian Bar has been actively advocating the implementation of Common Bar Course (“CBC”) for all local and overseas law graduates in Malaysia before they can be qualified as lawyers. The CBC has long been mooted as a uniform entry point for all who seek to be a lawyer, and as a replacement for the Certificate in Legal Practice (“CLP”) exam that every overseas law graduates and local law graduates of private institutions has to sit.
Now, it has come to everyone’s attention that the Malaysian Bar is trying to persuade public universities to review the benefits of having the CBC to improve the overall standard of practising lawyers.
I find this CBC proposal has its own pros and cons. But of course, I am more interested to moot about the cons of this proposal rather than its pros, hence my humble suggestions to the Malaysian Bar. The implementation of CBC, if it is about to be executed soon, has to be done properly so that this proposal will not jeopardize one of the main stakeholders in this issue; the local law graduates.
Firstly, how long will this course take? Will it be nine to 12 months? If the duration is as such, it would be unfair to the local graduates. Currently, local graduates have to complete a four-year LLB degree as compared to a three-year LLB degree for most overseas law graduates. This means, local graduates will have to take 4+1 years of legal education just to be qualified as a lawyer. Well, this is notwithstanding a mandatory 9-month of pupillage duration and as such, it is going to be almost six years altogether. Now, is this fair? Local graduates read law for four years and are still considered as having low quality while overseas graduates who read law for three years are deemed to be composed of higher quality just because they have to take CLP? Why the biasness?
Secondly, it has been said that the module of CBC itself has been adapted from some public universities in Malaysia, one of them being the specially designed module for UiTM’s final year syllabuses for LLB degree. If local universities like UiTM has been offering the very same modules that will be introduced by the Malaysian Bar through the CBC, why should we have another “qualification” for local law graduates?
This surely will be unfair to the local law graduates to study same things for at least another year. It is understandable if the Malaysian Bar introduces this module to overseas law graduates because they obviously
study different laws and syllabuses from those we have in Malaysia. But, for local graduates to re-study the same contents and syllabuses they have studied for the previous four years in this country, that is just ridiculous!
Thirdly, it is still questionable on how can the Malaysian Bar assure us that the CBC will produce good and quality lawyers? Currently, overseas law graduates are required to take CLP exam before they are allowed to commence a nine-month mandatory pupillage.
The failure rate is indisputably high in illustrating CLP’s level of difficulty and some would say only above average candidates would pass the exam. But how effective can the Malaysian Bar show to us that the CLP has managed to produce good quality lawyers in total?
Based on my experience, I do not see wide differences between CLP-qualified lawyers and locally graduated lawyers. Though it is undeniable that some local law graduates cum lawyers are not well versed in English but in this parameter, English should not be the only yardstick to be a good lawyer.
Thus, these are some of my suggestions to the Malaysian Bar before they consider to implement CBC:
1. Incorporate the CBC modules into local universities final year’s syllabuses. Instead of making CBC as a separate module or test that one has to sit, the Malaysian Bar should use its influence and authority to make all local universities to incorporate the CBC modules in their final year syllabus. This is in fact a win-win situation. For example, the Malaysian Bar can, from time to time; check the quality of the teaching progress and the effectiveness of the modules to ensure the objective it sets in the very beginning is reachable and benefiting the graduates at large.
2. The questions for final exams shall be standardised. All public and private universities incorporating/offering CBC programme shall use the same examination questions drafted and provided by the Malaysian Bar.
3. If the Malaysian Bar doubts the quality of our local law lecturers, just in case, the Bar can introduce multiple integrated courses to train these lecturers to guide and teach the CBC modules. Do lay down some strict requirements on who are qualified to teach these modules/subjects. Later on, issue a certificate to recognise those lecturers who have met the criteria set by the Malaysian Bar.
4. If the Malaysian Bar refuses to incorporate these CBC modules in the final year syllabuses at local universities, please promote a notion for local law students to read law only for three years instead of four years. It would be unfair for local law students to read law for four years and have to take additional one year of CBC just to be qualified lawyers as persisted by the Malaysian Bar.
5. For overseas law graduates, the CBC can be similarly equated to how they sit for their CLP. Public and private universities in Malaysia shall be given the "licence" to offer CBC programme to these foreign law graduates.
These are just some of my humble opinions and suggestions. It is not impossible to implement CBC but the method of implementation should be correct and will not victimise anyone especially the local graduates. There are many other ways to control the quality production of our lawyers and CBC is not the only way.
Finally, I would like to congratulate our newly elected Bar Council president George Varughese and all of his committees. May the Bar Council become a better institution for all lawyers and keep on fighting for the right causes.
* Haeme Hashim is a local graduate lawyer and has been actively organising many law-related events in Malaysia including the Novice Arbitration Mooting Competition (Namco).
** This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail Online.