Year in year out, students are failing those exams notorious for being tough. To circumvent this problem, students take the exams in the UK, which they easily pass in exchange for the handsome sum of Rs 1million.
“ THIS is a scandal !” thunders a Supreme Court ( SC) judge. He is so angry that he feels he has to let go of the obligation of discretion that binds judges. Many, many voices from the judiciary and the bar have echoed this SC judge’s indignation these past weeks when Bar examination results were published – only three candidates out of the 87 who took part, passed the Bar exams; one lawyer ( out of 56 candidates who took part in those particular examinations), one solicitor ( out of 26) and one notary ( out of five).
The Bar exams in Mauritius have always had the reputation of being very difficult to pass. One university professor, who teaches law year in and year out at the University of Mauritius, has sat for those exams on four different occasions. He has failed all four attempts. Several wellknown barristers and magistrates ( who have declined to comment on the record as they consider the issue a delicate one) have had to sit for those exams on more than one occasion, in order to get through them.
From Rs 1 million to Rs 40,000
This is why most law students – if their parents have the means – will choose to do their Bar in the United Kingdom at one of the four inns of court in London. To do this, however, one needs to have Rs 1 million to spare. For those less fortunate students, the Bar School in Mauritius is available. The fees, which were Rs 25,000 for a long time, have now been revised to Rs 40,000.
According to people in the know, the students who take part in the Bar exams set by the Council of Legal Education ( CLE), are known as “ CPE wallahs”, that is, students who passed their CPE exams as if it was a walk in the park ( as opposed of course, to those who find those exams rather more like torture than anything else). Those intellectually fortunate children will then surf easily through even rougher waters until some of them choose to become lawyers.
The first impediment will be law school. But they will quickly enough adapt to their new environment as well as to the curricular. Then comes Bar School. And this will be one of the most strenuous challenges that will ever come their way. If they take the exams in Mauritius, that is.
The SC judge mentioned above used to teach at the CLE until the new chairman, Justice Paul Lam Shang Leen, decided in 2008 to ban judges from teaching prospective lawyers. Since then, according to the same source, courses have been imparted by less experienced members of the State Law Office and “ courses are rather theoretical whereas the questions in the examination papers tend to be more practical oriented ”. The Bar is in fact meant to be a practical course – to prepare students who have spent the last three years in lecture theatres at universities to not just learn about law but also to practise it.
Not prepared to face the local courts of law
It serves yet another purpose, however. The Mauritian Legal System is peculiar in the sense that it is a mixture of the English and French systems. Our criminal law, for instance, is inspired from the French penal code but the procedure used as well as the law of evidence is English. The company law is English but the “ Droit de Société” which is equally used is… French. The pleas are made in English but questions are asked in French and Creole.
This would logically mean that all students who did their LLB abroad would have to go through the Bar School in Mauritius. Imagine that! At this rate, there would be a shortage of lawyers in the country. In any event, this rule was changed in 1996 – for political reasons, some say – and since then students who studied in the UK had the option of sitting for their bar exams there itself even if that meant – according to some lawyers that they were not prepared at all to face the courts of law in Mauritius.
The irony is that those who pay Rs 1 million for their Bar, all end up passing those exams whereas in Mauritius less and less candidates are getting through the bar exams. This figure even includes students who have read law at French universities and have had top grades at their final exams.
The SC judge as well as numerous barristers and university professors we have spoken to, are all of the opinion that the extremely low percentage of passes at the Bar exams have nothing to do with the quality of the students but more with a malfunction within the Council of Legal Education, set up in the early eighties by Government and spearheaded by former Justice Rajsoomer Lallah.
We have not been able to speak to either Chief Justice Bernard Sik Yuen, who is out of the country, and who appointed the Chairman of the CLE, Paul Lam Shan Leen, nor to the latter.