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By Ali Mashraf

Department of Law, East West University hosted the International Conference on ‘Legal Education’ from 15-17 June 2017. Renowned academicians, law practitioners, scholars and researchers from four South Asian countries  (Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Nepal) as well as students from 13 local and foreign universities came together to discuss pertinent issues on legal education. The conference aimed to provide a fabulous opportunity for everyone to critique and discuss on various avenues concerning legal education.

The opening ceremony of the conference took place on 15 June with Dr. Mohammed Farashuddin, Chairperson, Board of Trustees, East West University as the Special Guest; Mr. M. Tafazzul Islam, the Honorable Former Chief Justice of Bangladesh as the Chief Guest and Dr. Fakrul Alam, Professor, Department of English, University of Dhaka as the Chair.Moreover, Dr. Tureen Afroz, Professor and Chairperson, Department of Law, East West University and Dr. Fouzia Mannan, Dean, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, East West University also delivered their speeches at the opening ceremony.

The ceremony was followed by a plenary session on ‘Problems of Teaching Constitutional Law: Prelude to a Critique of the “Basic Structure” Doctrine’ conducted by Dr. Salimullah Khan, Director, Centre for Advanced Theory, University of Liberal Arts, Bangladesh. Dr. Khan furthered his discussion on the topic referring to prominent judgments of the Anwar Hossain Chowdhury v Bangladesh (1989) and Keshavananda Bharati v State of Kerala (1973) cases.

He commented that the original 1972 Constitution of Bangladesh did not distinguish between basic and non-basic parts rather our Supreme Court created that later on. He further proclaimed that even the judges of the Supreme Court could not reach to a consensus among themselves regarding an exhaustive list of basic structure provisions.

He also talked about the current trend worldwide on putting some limitations on the power of amendment by the Parliament and cited the example of Turkey in this regard. Towards the end, Dr. Khan underlined some of the problems of legal education in Bangladesh. He said that the mode and language of teaching law and delivering verdicts in a country should be the mother tongue of the people of that country. Furthermore, he lamented over the fact that academicians and law professors in Bangladesh could not practice in the courts while in Sweden, the academicians can do so.

The next day, 16 June consisted of three working sessions. The first working session was chaired by Dr. Ridwanul Hoque, Professor, Department of Law, University of Dhaka. Mr. Mohammad Ataul Karim, Senior Lecturer of Law, East West University presented his paper on ‘Supreme Court’s Recent Directives on Legal Education in Bangladesh: A Critical Appraisal’. Mr. Karim extensively dissected the judgments of the High Court Division and the Appellate Division in Professor Syed Ali Naki and Others v Bangladesh and others and Bangladesh Bar Council and Others v A.K.M. Fazlul Karim and Others. He criticized the courts for their judicial overreach in the name of judicial activism in the aforementioned cases. Moreover, he also talked about the existing gaps and problems in legal education and about uniformity in legal education in Bangladesh.

In his observations, Dr. Ridwanul Hoque however, said that diversity in imparting legal education among the institutions was better than the uniformity that the court was trying to advocate for and stressed upon the fact that the job of law schools was to produce law graduates, not fine-tuned law professionals.

The second working session of the day was chaired by Professor K Shamsuddin Mahmood, Dean, School of Law, BRAC University. Mr. K M Shazzad Mohasin, Assistant Professor, Department of Law & Justice, Jahangirnagar University presented the first paper of the session on ‘The Epistemological Dilemma of Ostensive Self Image of an Autonomous Legal Discipline and the (Re) Emerging Legal Other’. The Chair of the session aptly remarked after his presentation that the paper had taken everyone back to their jurisprudence class as Mr. Mohasin meticulously talked about law and legal history linking it with other fields of study.

The next paper was presented by Mr. Regan Ahmed, Lecturer, Department of Law & Justice, Southeast University on ‘Legal Education in Bangladesh and Its Tryst with Advocacy: Curricular Reform to Conform Market Stipulations’.Adding humor to his presentation and citing examples from his own life, Mr. Ahmed talked about the various ways law students could gain practical exposure before graduation to give themselves a head start in their respective professional fields. Furthermore, he underlined the necessity of reforms in the curriculum of legal education in Bangladesh.

M. B. M. Sajith Bandara, Attorney-at-Law, Supreme Court of Sri Lanka presented the last paper of the session on ‘Promoting Access to Justice through Strengthened Clinical Legal Education: The Sri Lankan Perspective’. He talked about the current scenario of clinical legal education in Sri Lanka and drew similarities and dissimilarities with that of Bangladesh and made recommendations to improve the system. He remarked that lack of legal literacy among the mass people was a serious problem that needed to be addressed and urged law students to use law to establish justice, not to misuse/abuse law.

The last working session of the day was chaired by Professor Dr. Md. Rahmat Ullah, Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Dhaka. Md. Asaduzzaman, Assistant Professor, Department of Maritime Law & Policy, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Maritime University presented his paper on ‘Promoting Quality Legal Education in Bangladesh: Role of Regulators’. He assessed the role of the internal mechanisms and external mechanisms in our legal education sector and called for reforms within the sector. Mr. Asaduzzaman also critiqued the recent directives of both the divisions of the Supreme Court regarding legal education and concurred with the conclusion of the speakers of the first session.

The next paper, titled ‘All the World’s Stage: Role Play and Simulation in Legal Education’ was presented by Kundan Raj Sharma, Program Officer, International Law and Relations Study Centre, Kathmandu School of Law, Nepal. In his presentation, Mr. Sharma highlighted the necessary skills that law students must acquire to gain the experience needed for tackling real-life situations. He urged for role-playing and simulation as well as crisis-handling and management and policy-making exercises for a holistic development of a student’s capabilities. He felt that the challenge the students would face in these situations would immensely help them defend their outlooks in real-life situations as well as explore newer domains of law, e.g. cyber law, space law etc.

The last paper of the conference, titled ‘Re-Inventing Legal Education for Emerging Challenges in South Asia: Problems and Prospects’ was presented by Dr. Amal Pal Singh, Professor, University School of Law and Legal Studies, Guru Gobind Singh Indraprastha University, New Delhi. Dr. Singh, in his presentation, stressed on using law as an agent of peace in the SAARC region. He made various recommendations for reforms in the teaching-learning method of law in the SAARC region and urged everyone to use law as a tool in helping the South Asian region move towards the path of peace and prosperity and be a role model for the entire world. Dr. Singh also encouraged everyone to embrace the diversity among the SAARC countries as he felt that this diversity would help everyone to interact and solve problems of law as well as life.

The closing ceremony of the conference was chaired by Dr. Fouzia Mannan. The program was inaugurated by Dr. Tureen Afroz, who thanked all the participants of home and abroad for such a lively conference and their energetic interactions during the working sessions.

Professor Dr. Mizanur Rahman, Former Chairman, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh graced the event as the Special Guest. Dr. Mizan grieved over the fact our law schools were not churning out the best law practitioners nowadays. However, he noted that such conferences among the SAARC nations would help the students of all countries become better law students and use law to establish justice and the rights of the marginalized.

The Chief Guest, Mr. Md. Muzammel Hossain, the Honorable Former Chief Justice of Bangladesh thanked Dr. Tureen as well as the organizing team for hosting such a great conference. Additionally, he advised the students to reflect on the knowledge that they had gathered from the conference and to implement that in their lives. The conference ended with the distribution of certificates among the participants by the Chief Guest.

On a personal level, representing University of Dhaka at the conference was an impeccable experience for me. The working sessions provided me with valuable insights on the current state of legal education in the South Asian region and how as a student, I could ensure a better learning environment in classroom. Moving forward, I intend to implement the takeaways from this conference in my study of law in near future.