I REFER to the latest controversy regarding the Certificate of Legal Practice (CLP) examination whereby the graduates sitting for this examination in less than two months from now have just been informed of the change in format for the examination although the exact details of the change were not specified.
It is highly unfair for these students to be given notice at this late stage as they have to sit for five papers namely Civil Procedure, General Paper, Criminal Procedure, Professional Practice and Evidence.
The CLP is designed for foreign law graduates to expose them to the local law.
The CLP comes under the purview of the Legal Profession Qualifying Board pursuant to Section 4 of the Legal Profession Act 1976. The Board consists of the Attorney General who shall be the chairman, two High Court Judges, the chairman of the Bar Council and a full-time member of the academic staff of a Faculty of Law.
Local law graduates are exempt from sitting for the CLP exam.
Upon passing the CLP, foreign law graduates will be required to undergo a nine-month period of pupillage under an advocate and solicitor, also known as the master, of not less than seven years standing.
There have been frequent rumblings of discontent on the extreme difficulties in passing the CLP. A foreign graduate is required to pass all five papers in one sitting and is given four attempts.
Therefore, in theory one may pass all five subjects in different sittings and yet fail the overall exam if one does not pass all simultaneously. To compound matters, the low pass rate of 40% or even less in recent times have added to the unnecessary stress and pressure. One may argue that the CLP has been used as a filter or as a quota mechanism to restrict the number of foreign graduates being called to the Malaysian Bar.
I sat for the CLP exams in 1991 and was relieved to pass at the first attempt. The subject that was most meaningful for me during CLP was Civil Procedure because the late great Prof Balan made this subject so enjoyable to learn and because it resonates most closely with my area of practice.
Even then, the stringent pass conditions made it difficult for foreign law graduates to be called to the Malaysian Bar.
Ironically, recent surveys have indicated that foreign law graduates are more sought after by law firms compared to local graduates primarily because foreign law graduates possess greater written and oral skills, greater proficiency in English and a better grasp of the understanding of law.
To expect students to handle the drastic changes in the format for Criminal Procedure at short notice is unrealistic and unfair as only a handful of them will end up in criminal practice.
Thus, the time is right to institute radical reform in this area of legal learning. The mooting of a Common Bar Course by the Malaysian Bar for all law graduates to replace the CLP would constitute a step in the right direction to standardise the entry of law graduates to the legal profession and to avoid the current disparity between local and foreign law graduates. Such a move will inevitably elevate the standard of the legal profession.
The setting-up of the Common Bar Course must involve input from all important stakeholders and also take into account the current conditions in local and international legal practice.