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Basic legal education must be compulsory at secondary school level

To me, law is a religion. Two books are key in my life. The Bible first, the Constitution second. My vocation is not a job, it’s a calling. When my lecturer said that we were training to be ministers in the temple of justice I took him literally.

That is what I see myself as. That doesn’t make me any different really. Far from it. I know many leaned friends who hold that same confession. They sleep and wake up with the problems of their clients in mind. When injustice happens, they mourn inwardly even as they put up brave faces on the outside. Half the time they get paid for doing what they do. The balance of the time, their services are rendered gratuitously. They carry the troubles of their society on their backs for little or no reward. Some get overtaken by kindness and suffer professional ruin.

 I would hazard a guess. Lawyers would compare favorably with any profession that professes leadership in corporate social responsibility. Of this, I have no doubt. Except, we are hardly ever acknowledged and hardly ever ask for it. The judge never knows when we are arguing the case before him pro bono. They often know, when we are doing cases pro deo. The public never know either. It is just another day in court. It is just another day in the life of a lawyer. I say to my friends that lawyering is the only profession for which slavery has been retained as legal. The Legal Practitioners Act obliges lawyers to do pro deo and pro bono work. Now, that is obviously unconstitutional. But I have heard no lawyer complain. Neither do I. Try put that in the Employment Act. 

Since I joined private practice, I have practically written off more than a million Pula in invoices issued to clients. Many cases have been done pro bono. Many of my learned friends have done and continue to do much more. That is why it is very rare to see a lawyer litigating against a client. Get me right, we do it sometimes where there is a clear case of willful refusal to pay in spite of a client’s ability. Otherwise we hardly do. We take it on the chin. We look on to another day and another soul in need of assistance. The only satisfaction we have is in knowing that we made someone happy; that we spared them some trouble; that we cried with them; that we sought and won justice for them. Justice according to law, not societal sentiment.

Yet, the laity say that it is all about money, lying, alcohol and arrogance. Oh deary me; the arrogance of ignorance. But that is only of the things we learn to live with. It is one

of our societal assignments to help push back the frontiers of ignorance until we all come to a point where the remembrance of who we are and what we stand for is etched in our minds. John F. Kennedy, in his moon speech once said that, “the greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds”. You must learn to live positively with it all.  Hear men and women shout that a man or woman must hang before they even set foot in court. Hear people attack lawyers for what they do in the course of defending their clients or vindicating their rights. I would defend a man who is accused of the worst crime because I believe all accused deserve a hearing. I would never flinch. I can never be bullied.

 I have come to a conclusion. It is my sincere position that basic legal education must be compulsory at Senior Secondary School. You cannot have a citizenry that does not know its constitutional obligations and commitments. You cannot have a society that does not know its rights and must read about them in the media. People must know about the due exercise of freedoms; about what relief they have in times of legal trouble; about the sources of law and elementary principles that inform legal thought. Basic legal education should be made a human right. The ignorance that often pervades society is inhuman and degrading.

I do not seek to pretend that law is a better vocation than any other vocation. Far from it. I have respect for every profession. I cannot imagine a world without police, nurses, architects, doctors, social workers, engineers and sewage workers, journalists and even house helpers who give us a chance to pursue our chosen vocations.  Coming to think of it, we are all essential services. We all deserve recognition and respect.

But the basic structure of our social lives is set and governed by laws. There is not a single place where you can stand in the sun where the law is absent. Our mutual coexistence is based on legal principles. Neighbors must be exposed some basic nuisance law if they must police themselves better and some employers and workers  must know some basic labour laws to treat each other better in the workplace. In law we live, and in law all society must be baptized. I am making a case for a crash course in legal education to be compulsory at senior secondary school level.

Chief On Friday



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