Legal Education and 150 Years of Education at Law College
Posted on February 29th, 2024

By Sarath Wijesinghe President’s Counsel (LL.M (UCL London)), former Ambassador to UAE and Israel, former Chairman of the Consumer Affairs Authority, President of the Lanka Ambassador’s Forum – United Kingdom, Solicitor in England and Wales

Legal education is paramount in Sri Lanka, where there is a legal profession comprising 20,000 lawyers and academics in universities. Despite this, legal education remains minimal due to a lack of facilities and promotional activities. In contrast, other countries give legal education more prominence.

Legal education in Sri Lanka is based on the constitution and the legal framework of the country, which is mainly based on Roman-Dutch law, with influences from Sri Lanka and South Africa. Other legal systems, such as Kandyan law and maritime law, also play a role. Legal education is generally conducted in English in the higher courts, while other courts use Tamil and Sinhala, but records in the highest courts are maintained in English. There is a debate over whether the case records of the highest courts should be in Sinhala, especially for controversial matters decided by governors.

Dr. Jayatissa De Costa’s book, “Laws of Sri Lanka,” is an excellent reference for students, academics, and the public, even though law is not taught to them. Under the Chapter of 1933, advocates and proctors can be admitted, a practice dating back to 1874. The entire admission process for legal education is in the hands of the Law College, headed by the Honorable Chief Justice, which is a point of interest for academics and professionals.

There is ample time to educate lawyers academically. Currently, the lawyers admitted are also officers of the Supreme Court, following the amalgamation of two professions advocates and proctors by the administration of law introduced by Hon. Felix Dias Bandaranaike. This reform was initiated with high hopes for the commoner to address law’s delays, but unfortunately, it did not fully materialize.

The Law College exams are difficult, and there are other qualifications available, such as a Bachelor of Laws degree (LLB) from Sri Lanka or abroad. Institutions involved in teaching include the Law College, Colombo University, Open University, Peradeniya University, Jaffna University, General Sir John Kotelawala University etc., which conduct law degrees accepted by the Law College. The Law College also recognizes degrees from other universities, but its exams are excessively tough for entry into the legal profession. However, they maintain certain standards, ensuring that those who pass the exams are well-qualified.

Another famous book for legal education is by LJM Cooray in 1975 on legal education, with the rest of the information available on the internet. The bodies responsible for legal education are the Law College and other law faculties, which maintain certain standards. Legal education in Sri Lanka was initially influenced by British rule, starting with the Charter of Justice, where advocates were enrolled, and the administration of justice and law fused the two professions, a practice that continues today.

Law is not taught in schools and institutions aimed at the commoner, which is a societal need. Civics was taught in schools, but this is no longer the case, which is a concern for academics and concerned citizens given the current situation in the country regarding law and order. The Ambassadors’ Forum is planning to compile the 12th volume of its Foreign Policy Perspectives series on Law and Order to discuss this issue, in addition to the volumes compiled on many important topics such as agriculture, peace, and reconciliation, which are academic, practical, and aimed at professionals and academics in society.

The legal profession is seen as a partnership of judges, lawyers, academics, etc., who are educated and competent, but there is a need for a proper training institute for judges and for judges who understand life and judicial temperament. Some judges in minor courts need a lot of training. There are concerns about the standards for lawyers, which is true for standards of education, language proficiency, etc. The Bar Association of Sri Lanka (BASL) and the Law College must take notice of these issues.

The Law College is an independent body, and the principal has authority and responsibility. Academics and lawyers have concerns about the way the principal is trying to do the job without assistance from legal professionals. It is time for the principal to address this matter. This also contributes to the rise of criminal activities due to a lack of knowledge and provisions by the respective parties on the rule of law.

Legal education is a complex study on the development of professional identity and studies. Sri Lanka has leading visionaries and world-renowned judges and professionals, such as Justice Weeramantry, who is held in the highest esteem worldwide. The profession must take notice of these figures and use them as examples.

Therefore, as the Bar Association of Sri Lanka is completing 50 years of existence, it is time to look back, learn from mistakes, and take steps for the future to ensure that Sri Lanka’s legal system is not second to any in the world, including the UK, from which the system was imported. It is time for the judiciary, Bar Association, academics, and professionals to come together in one forum for their benefit and the benefit of citizens at large, especially now when the legal profession is at a low ebb. In the recent past, we were at a reasonably good level, so at this juncture, legal professionals, academics, and the judiciary must resolve to make things right, using this anniversary as a platform.

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