Chancellor of Justice criticizes ministry's legal exams planned bill

Ülle Madise.
Ülle Madise. Source: Kairit Leibold/ERR

A draft legal exams bill does not resolve issues relating to the quality of legal education, but instead will lead to costly and bureaucratic exam arrangements, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise says.

In response to an inquiry on the matter from the Minister of Justice, Madise wrote that the draft prepared by the Ministry of Justice (link in Estonian) attempts to find a solution to problems stemming from the uneven quality of legal education, plus the fact that too many people have failed the exams required to work as a judge, and in other legal professions.

The Chancellor of Justice said: "I stand by the position given regarding the intention to develop the legal examination draft law. I believe that the establishment of a unified legal examination does not resolve the problems it is intended to, though it does cause additional resource costs,"

According to Madise, it would help to improve the quality of legal education more efficiently and quickly if the resources needed for taking the exam were to be channeled into legal education, with the state presenting to universities its understanding of which fields must be taught to students at a law faculty.

"A situation where a person is awarded a law degree from a university, but it is also assumed by default that he or she is not capable of working in the profession, then the state has to spend more in order to organize a legal exam in order to identify competent lawyers from university graduates, damages the image of [legal] higher education as a whole," she added.

The distinction must be made between classical legal education and the teaching of legal subject matter within the framework of other disciplines (public administration, international relations, business management, etc.), or legal subject matter to support successful work in other disciplines, the justice chancellor went on.

"A nationally recognized legal diploma should signify that the student has acquired sufficient knowledge in all branches of the law, has knowledge of the structure of the legal system, is capable of navigating their way round legal sources, and of case law. Depending on the choice of specialty, one must constantly learn more, specialize, and, if necessary, pass competitive processes."

The content of classical legal education is easily defined, Madise added, and it should be part of the legal curriculum in all those universities awarding a law degree. In addition, it is viable to offer subjects supporting narrower specialization and insight into other specialties, she said.

"The statement in the explanatory memorandum to the effect that there is a shortage of narrowly specialized lawyers on the labor market, which also seems to preclude the need to provide lawyers with a classical legal education is also irrelevant. Highly specialized lawyers are certainly required, but this specialization cannot take place before acquiring what is known as a classical legal education. Specialization does not equate to deficiency within legal education, but instead additional knowledge, and special skills in a certain field," Madise continued.

The Minister of Justice sent a draft for its approval round, ahead of its being approved at cabinet level, before being passed to the Riigikogu for voting.
The bill, were it to pass at the Riigikogu, would put in place a national legal exam.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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