OVER the years, Zambia Institute of Advanced Law Education (ZIALE) has become synonymous with a low pass rate.
This is because out of the hundreds of students that enrol at Zambia’s only law practice institute each year, only a few are admitted to the Bar.
For instance in 2016, out of the 360 students that sat for the law practice exams, only 16 made it.
In 2015, only 18 out of 206 students were admitted to the Bar.
In 2014, the story was not any different as 12 out 267 candidates who sat for the ZIALE exams passed.
In 2013, 64 legal advocates made it out of 181, while in 2012 only six were admitted to the Bar out of 200.
As a result, lamentations of the low pass rate at the ZIALE have now become a proverbial song in the ears of many Zambians.
Year in, year out we hear lamentations of various stakeholders over the consistent, embarrassing and devastating low pass rate at ZIALE.
These lamentations have come from a cross section of society, including students, universities, non-governmental organisations, politicians and citizens in general.
Minister of Justice Given Lubinda, under whose ambit ZIALE falls, is also not amused with the low pass rate at the institution. He is on record to have directed the institution through its council to give him strategies on how it was going to improve the students’ pass rate last October.
It is, however, disappointing that while ZIALE is still dilly-dallying on submitting a plan on how to address the problem, we are greeted by another low pass rate shocker.
It has been revealed that among the 332 students who sat for the 2017 mid-year exams, only seven succeeded. This represents a two percent pass rate. Put another way, this is a 98 percent failure rate.
Now, this is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.
We need to understand that legal access is a fundamental element of the rule of law. Zambia cannot achieve adequate justice without adequate legal representation for its people regardless of status.
The low numbers of lawyers being admitted to the Bar means that Zambia will continue to have a high lawyer to citizens’ ratio which stands at 1 to 20,000 currently.
With 20,000 citizens chasing after one lawyer’s services, it means the demand is extremely high. This could explain the exorbitant legal fees which stem from the rationale of law and demand. Unfortunately this excludes many poor Zambians from accessing justice.
The prisons today are full of people incarcerated, without bail, because they cannot afford legal representation.
We therefore back Mr Lubinda’s action to summon the ZIALE council to discuss the challenges faced and possible solutions.
There is need to know why attaining that ZIALE qualification is so much more challenging than other equally or more demanding skills such as those in medicine and other sciences.
As Mr Lubinda has noted, we also believe there could be something terribly wrong at the institution.
ZIALE should come clear on suspicions by stakeholders that the low pass rate is a deliberate move by a legal cartel to restrict the profession to a few, for maximum financial gain and prestige.
The reason often advanced by ZIALE that the low pass rate is reflective of the calibre of students does not really hold any water.
How does ZIALE explain the almost 100 percent pass rate for the professional courses it offers to employees of statutory bodies such as NAPSA with authority to prosecute for non-compliance?
ZIALE council needs to realise that the low pass rate the institution has been recording has only managed to brand the institution negatively.
We agree with Mr Lubinda that the low pass rate does not only reflect the poor performance of students, but also the lecturers and the institution at large.
ZIALE lecturers should introspect on why they are failing to deliver high pass rates year in, year out.
We are in no way saying that students should be given the Pass for the sake of keeping numbers up. It is dangerous to have half-baked lawyers at the Bar. The qualification should be earned, but it the lecturers are failing to impart the knowledge, they should be part of the blame.
A lecturer or indeed a learning institution is measured by the quality and pass rate of its students.
ZIALE and its lecturers should therefore consider themselves part of the failure.
It is our hope that the low pass rate at ZIALE will be addressed sooner than later to accord many more Zambians legal representation.