Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Legal Practitioners Act doesn’t recognise Gaborone University College of Law

In an age when public roads are clogged with fong kongs, UKongs (fong kongs from the United Kingdom) and non-kongs like those you find in Gaborone’s enclaves of capitalist overachievers, it is probably not a good idea to use Renaissance expressions about a four-legged domesticated animal being a mode of transport. That notwithstanding, what the Botswana Qualifications Authority and a private university did is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse and impeding movement. BQA has approved an LLB programme that the Gaborone University College of Law (GUCL) plans to offer in the not-too-distant future. The problem though is that the latter is not on a list of universities that are recognised by the Legal Practitioners Act. In terms of Section 4 of the Act, Botswana citizens shall be qualified to practise as legal practitioners if they hold an LLB  from the universities of Botswana, Lesotho, Swaziland, the former University of Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland, universities in Britain, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Australia as well as the American University in Washington D.C., Syracuse University in New York, the University of Zambia and the University of Ghana. No GUCL which plans to offer LLB. A very credible case can be made that this Act is outdated but it is still the law of the land and binding on all who practise law. GUCL could go ahead and offer its LLB programme but its graduates would not be admitted as legal practitioners because the Legal Practitioners Act gives precise guidance with regard to whose name can get on the roll of legal practitioners. Such roll is kept by the Registrar and Master of the High Court. Section 3 of the Act says that no person shall be qualified to practise as a legal practitioner unless he has been admitted as a legal practitioner. Such person must have obtained their law degrees from the mentioned universities. In essence, BQA has approved a programme offered by an institution which has no statutory recognition. In explaining this complex situation, BQA’s Communications and Public Relations Manager, Selwana Pilatwe-Koppenhaver, begins by stating that the Authority started implementing its regulations in January this year and that one key activity has been has been stakeholder engagement to identify possible areas of collaboration.

“One such stakeholder is the Law Society of Botswana. This engagement will advice on how both parties can work together  in  registration of law qualifications and accredtation of law-earning programmes. The ultimate [aim] would be to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to structure the partnership  and ensure compliance to Acts that govern the two organisations,” Pilatwe-Koppenhaver says. 

She adds that while GUCL has met approval requirements for its LLB programme, it has not started offering the course “because it is still in consultation with the Law Society of Botswana for recognition of the programme.” However, that is not how the latter organisation understands this issue. The Law Society’s Executive Secretary, Tebogo Moipolai, disavows any knowledge of such consultation and adds that the Society cannot have any consultation with the university with regard to what the Act prescribes because the corrective action (amendment of the Act) is the prerogative of the legislature – not the Society.

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