This morning the University of Seychelles, in a presentation made to various stakeholders, announced that it would be offering a law degree programme come the start of the next academic year, i.e. in October 2010. In particular, it will be offering the London External LLB program. It will offer only the full-time programme come October, but will offer part-time and modular programmes in the coming years.
The University of Seychelles will provide the facilities: the learning environment, lectures, seminars etc, but the course content will be provided for by the University of London and more importantly, at the end of the day, the blood and sweat of the law student will be rewarded with an internationally recognized degree - a University of London LLB.
Attending the presentation were the Chief Justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende, President of the Court of Appeal Francis MacGregor, Justices of the Court of Appeal, the Attorney General and various members of the legal profession, there were also members of the national assembly and many potential law students. Such a varied crowd with many conflicting interests.
Justices of Appeal and legal professionals warned those interested in pursuing the programme that they would be studying English law and not Seychelles law. Justice of Appeal Hodoul pointed out that English Land Law and Law of Trusts are "useless" in Seychelles. A member of the audience who queried about studying the labour/employment law module of the LLB programme was cautioned that she would be studying English labour/employment law and not Seychelles labour/employment law. It might be worth mentioning right now that many individuals interested in obtaining an LLB would perhaps only wish to do so, so that they could work locally with corporate service providers or banks, but be wary, perhaps the one of the most important areas of the law they would need to learn is that of contract law and the Seychelles law of contract has some significant differences from the English law of contract. It was interesting to note though, that a local element to the course was discussed: Maybe summer modules on Seychelles law or the implementation of a Seychelles Bar Finals/Vocational course under the wing of the University of Seychelles.
Perhaps today some people would have understood why legal practioners severely opposed a bill for a new Legal Practitioners Act, that was in circulation in 2009 and has since been put down. If you learned the laws of one country that is all you have learned, you will not know about the laws of another country. That is often why, contracts drafted by foreign entities have to be significantly revised to be applicable in Seychelles.
A key issue put forward by the University of Seychelles' Vice-Chancellor and the presenter of the day, Dr. Rolph Payet is whether there is a great demand for attorneys-at-law in the country. The answer is twofold because there are two issues here. Is there a demand solely for law graduates in Seychelles? The answer is probably not. Someone who has learned the laws of England is not really helpful to anyone here. They will simply end up confusing themselves and everyone around them who doesn't know any better. And it is happening, there are individuals who only possess an LLB from England or Mauritius with no background in Seychelles law dictating what Seychelles law is when they have never studied it, never undergone pupillage and is not a Seychelles lawyer - an Attorney-at-Law. Not to mention that the providing of legal services/advice when one is not an attorney is an offence under Seychelles law punishable with 5 years imprisonment.
Of course, the skills one learns in successfully graduating with a law degree is transferable: analytical thought processes; logic and reasoning; presentation of facts and issues; structured argumentation... these are skills you can take to many jobs in Seychelles.
Now, is there a demand for Seychelles lawyers i.e. the Attorney-at-Law? The answer is Yes. There is a desperate need for more State Counsels at the Attorney General's Chambers. At the presentation, Dr. Payet indicated through a slide show that the country needs at least 8 more State Counsels. Perhaps, we might even need more than that. We are still recruiting foreigners to take up several key positions within the judiciary. We should strive to have an all Seychellois judiciary, and candidates should be hand-picked from the Attorneys-at-Law and/or State Counsels, and take note that it is expected that the number of Supreme Court judges and magistrates are expected to rise in the coming years. There are also many tribunals filled with non-lawyers adjudicating on legal issues, take SIBA as the ITZ Employment Authority and the consequent number of appeals and judicial reviews that take place after it decides on matters... appeals and judicial reviews that would not have been necessary if at least attorneys presided on the Authority's board. It can also be argued that the Registrar General and the Registrar of the Supreme Court should at the very least be qualified attorneys. With regards to demands for more Attorneys-at-Law, there has been a marked increase in litigation, both civil and criminal; and there has been a marked increase in advisory work brought about by the International Business Companies. There is also the potential of growth in legal advisory work in the securities and hedge funds industries but this is presently being stifled by the apparent lack of know-how from those involved to encourage the development of these industries.
But are there law students out there ready to come in and fill the void? Yes there are, but it is doubtful that they can fill up the void and one must also take into account that they may not all eventually qualify as lawyers. Presently, there are around 6 individuals seeking to complete the Seychelles Bar Exams or the UK Bar Vocational Course this year. There are around 9 students studying for their LLB degrees abroad, varying from the first year to the final year. There are also around 5 students presently enrolled in the University of London External LLB programme but they are all embarking on this mission separately from the University of Seychelles.
A potential law student may now realise that in the next few years, we could see a score of new legal practitioners, but this should not discourage them from embarking on this, the noble profession, as indicated above, there is tremendous room for growth.
The Robing Room is the official blog of the Seychelles Legal Environment Website (sites.google.com/site/theseychelleslegalenvironment), the only website about the Seychelles Legal Environment that is constantly updated.