How to Strengthen Rule of Law Through Legal Education: Lessons from Pakistan

25 March 2019   ·   Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad, Niels Petersen

A proper training of lawyers is key for rule of law promotion. The earlier it starts, the more receptive the students. Academic and cultural interaction between law students, academics and practitioners in developing and western countries should be part of this training. It helps both sides to improve understanding, analytical skills and context sensitivity.

Many legal reform projects are geared towards drafting better legislation and implementing rule of law through good legal design. However, even the most carefully drafted statutes are not worth much if the lawyers applying them are not trained in rule of law thinking. There are numerous studies that show that the ideological imprint of judges significantly influences their decision-making. Therefore, one key element of every rule-of-law dialogue must be the training of lawyers who ultimately apply the law. Most existing efforts in this respect focus on the training of judges. However, this might be too late. Judges are often mature personalities, who have already acquired a certain status in society. Consequently, they might be less willing to modify their way of thinking in a fundamental way.

Promoting rule of law thinking at the earliest stage possible

Instead, it seems more promising to focus on legal education. Law students are in an earlier stage of their lives; thus, they are more malleable and open to new ideas. Based on our own experience, we would like to show how such an approach can work. One of the authors of this article, Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad, established and ran a law school in Lahore, Pakistan, from 2011 to 2018. The other author, Niels Petersen, frequently visited this law school to teach short courses on different subjects to undergraduate and graduate students.

Syed founded the law school in order to replicate American and European law schools that he had been visiting since 2006. The idea was to introduce latest trends in Pakistani legal education and to provide students with academic and practical knowledge that would enable them to efficiently perform in judiciary, politics, legal practice, legal academia, and government service.

Facilitating academic and cultural interaction

Among the various measures adopted to achieve this goal, a key step was to facilitate academic and cultural interaction between these students and western legal academics, legal practitioners, and law students. This was accomplished in the following ways:

1. European and North American legal academics and legal practitioners were hosted at the law school to teach short courses on various legal topics, e.g. economic analysis of law, comparative law, EU law, international commercial arbitration, international trade, and visual arts and law. Each year, the law school would host two to three foreign instructors.

2. Selected students were taken to Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands on study trips. During these trips, they would take short courses, attend conferences, and visit national and European institutions. Each year, the law school would conduct at least one such trip. 

3. Law students from Europe and North America were hosted at the law school as trainees. The law school hosted a total of seven such trainees.

While these activities enabled the law school’s students to gain valuable insight into latest trends regarding judiciary, politics, legal profession, legal academia, and government service in Europe and North America; Europeans and North Americans learned about Pakistan and its people. The whole experience tremendously improved the way the law school’s students viewed and analyzed various problems and challenges confronting Pakistan, and how Europeans and North Americans had overcome similar challenges.

To give an example: Many Pakistanis do not trust their judicial system. Pakistani litigants, both civil and criminal, are confronted with delays, corruption, incompetence, and other inefficiencies. Pakistani students who come to Germany observe that Germans have faith in their judicial system: Delays, corruption, incompetence, and other inefficiencies that characterize the Pakistani judicial system are mostly absent. When studying the reasons for this difference between the two judicial systems, they observe that the procedural laws in both countries are rather similar. However, German lawyers and judges are usually better educated and trained than their Pakistani counterparts and properly implement the procedural norms. In brief, students learn that the main difference is the quality of lawyers and judges, and that legal training positively influences it.

Local ideas instead of pre-cooked solutions

However, the transmission of information is not a one-way street. Legal solutions are always contingent on cultural, historical, and social contexts. We have both taught extensively in different international settings. In our experience, the problems and questions that students in other countries are concerned with are often quite significantly different from those that we are used to at home.

For European and North American instructors, who make academic trips to developing countries, it is important to understand the local values and concerns. Instead of imposing pre-cooked solutions, the western instructors should appreciate, address, and accommodate ideas, principles, and apprehensions that preoccupy the local students. Sometimes, this means to adapt solutions or acknowledge that the ‘western way of doing things’ might not be a panacea for all situations and contexts; sometimes, it just means that the western instructors have to explain better why a solution devised by the West would also be a good fit for a different social and cultural context. In our experience, open, unbiased, and respectful exchange of views between foreign instructors and local students is conducive to better understanding, acceptance, relations, and – ultimately – improvement.

Better legal education makes better legislators makes better rule of law

European and North American governments and entities, which are trying to strengthen rule of law in developing countries like Pakistan, should, among other things, support initiatives that aim to modernize legal education, both theoretical and practical. Focusing on legal education instead of the training of judges is both more efficient and more effective because law students are more malleable than already established judges. The support of legal education should include initiatives that aim to promote interaction between law students of developing countries and western law students, legal academics, and practitioners. Reading about a concept or a system is one thing, seeing its implementation, observing it, or interacting with it has a completely different impact. Such experiences make students open-minded and, as a result, receptive to new ideas.

In simple words, we believe, better legal education means better judges, legislators, politicians, lawyers, academics, and government servants; consequently, improved rule of law.

English Rechtsstaatsförderung

Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad

Syed Imad-ud-Din Asad is is a counsel at Azam & Rai, Lahore, Pakistan, and is pursuing a doctorate at Friedrich Alexander University, Germany. In 2011, he founded UMT School of Law and Policy in Lahore, where he also served as director/dean and associate professor.

Niels Petersen

Niels Petersen is Professor of Public Law, International Law, and EU Law at the University of Münster.