Poor Board Examination results – a matter of concern for the LPC and its stakeholders

September 9th, 2022

The Chairperson of the Legal Education Forum of the Legal Practice Council (LPC), Busani Mabunda, told a meeting of delegates on 14 July 2022 that the purpose of the meeting held by the LPC Legal Education Forum was for stakeholders to account for what they are doing towards ensuring access to the profession. He added that it is the duty of the LPC to ensure that the objective of assuring access to the profession are realised and for the LPC to account to Parliament as to what extent they have gone to, to ensure they have achieved their objectives, such as ensuring access to the legal profession through Board Examinations.

Mr Mabunda said s 5(h) of the Legal Practice Act 28 of 2014 states that the LPC must promote high standards of legal education and training. (This has not yet  been implemented and requires criteria to be decided by the Minister in consultation with the LPC.) He also referred to s 5(i), which deals with promoting ‘access to the legal profession, in pursuit of a legal profession that broadly reflects the demographics of the Republic’.

The LPC’s Senior Manager of Education and Training, Melissa Murray, gave statistics on the pass rate for Board Examinations for the 2021 and 2022 periods.

Chairperson Legal Education Forum, Busani Mabunda and the
Chief Executive Officer, Charity Nzuza at the stakeholders
meeting the Legal Practice Council that was held on 14 July 2022.

2021 Board Examination results
  • Paper 1 – 39%;
  • Paper 2 – 40%;
  • Paper 3 – 42%; and
  • Paper 4 – 47%.
2022 Board Examination results
  • Paper 1 – 31%;
  • Paper 2 – 66%;
  • Paper 3 – 43%; and
  • Paper 4 – 52%.

Ms Murray pointed out it was because of such poor results that they realised there were issues within the Board Examinations. She added that several complaints were also lodged with the LPC regarding the Board Examination results. Mr Mabunda said that this is a matter of concern, however, he said that the LPC and its stakeholders have a mandate to find the best way to fix this problem. The Law Society of South Africa (LSSA), the Black Lawyers Association and the National Democratic Lawyers Association gave presentations on the following topics –

  • the curriculum for examinations;
  • the LSSA’s drafting and moderation;
  • the process of preparing candidates for examinations and content used in examination preparation workshops; and
  • the marking of exam papers by LPC provincial examiners.

The meeting was attended by LPC members, examiners, PVT School principals, examination drafters and convenors, moderators, who had robust conversations. The drafters and convenors detailed the processes of preparing the question papers, as well as the challenges faced. Suggestions were made to the LPC, as well as to some stakeholders, on how some of the challenges can be fixed.

Member of the LPC and chairperson of its transformation committee, Kathleen Matolo-Dlepu, in her comments suggested that the legal profession should engage with institutions of higher learning as candidates come from different institutions, so that the profession can know and understand what candidates are taught, and how practical learning can be implemented in higher learning institutions.

Ms Matolo-Dlepu added that Chapter 9 institutions, such as Legal Aid South Africa, should be investigated, especially regarding how they accomplish things, as many candidates pass through such institutions before they join the legal profession. She further said that there must be engagements with examiners after every examination so that data can be collected on the challenges examiners found during the marking of examinations.

The LPC raised concerns that it spent R 70 million on legal education, however, the Board Examinations results were deteriorating. During the discussion, the general view was that many candidates were not fully prepared, and the use of past examination papers gave candidates a false sense of preparedness.

Another issue was the lack of skills transfers in those candidates with Practical Vocational Training (PVT) contracts. At the meeting, proposals were made to have principals make regular reports during PVT contracts. In addition, the rules allowing candidates to register before finishing the 23-day PVT short course should be amended. The other concern was the cost of oral examinations. The examination costs were R 15 million per annum, and the LPC was concerned about the disproportional cost of the oral examinations.

Legal Practice Council, Legal Education Forum held a stakeholder meeting on 14 July 2022 in Gauteng.

Mr Mabunda engaged the Acting Executive Director of the LSSA, Anthony Pillay, on some of the things the LSSA should investigate, including how expensive legal education and the examinations were. The LSSA responded that they work on a cost basis, and if the presumption is that the LSSA costs were excessive or inefficient, this could be addressed by competition. The LSSA is not averse to competition, even if it was as an existing accredited provider. Furthermore, many new providers were accredited. The revised examination process tabled by the LSSA with the input by the LSSA Executive committee was noted and will be discussed at the education committee. Mr Pillay told the gathering that the LSSA was fully behind the transformation of and access to the profession without any doubts. He cautioned that changes to the legal education model based on the cost must be adequately researched and considered, including the oral examinations.

Some of the challenges that were mentioned by participants that may have contributed to the poor results, included, among others –

  • the syllabus;
  • the language;
  • the students’ reliance on past examinations, instead of preparing in time for their examinations;
  • the quality of markers;
  • the issue of time allocated for examinations;
  • the treatment of the candidates;
  • the cost of legal education;
  • that there is no structure for candidate legal practitioners (attorneys) for examination preparation, including recommended reading, like there is for candidates writing the advocate admission examinations; and
  • the challenges regarding candidates who may be working at a law firm that only deals with matters of the Road Accident Fund, and when they, for example, have to answer a question paper on High Court procedures, they might struggle to answer this section in the question paper.

Kgomotso Ramotsho Cert Journ (Boston) Cert Photography (Vega) is the news reporter at De Rebus.
This article was first published in SA Lawyer in 2022 (September) DR 14.

De Rebus