A private university is now counting on the Constitutional Court for assurance that its 400 bachelor of laws (LLB) students will be allowed to practise as lawyers after graduating.
The Independent Institute of Education (IIE) has brought an application asking the apex court to declare a section of the Legal Practice Act unconstitutional, as it only allowed graduates from public universities to practise as lawyers.
Varsity College, a private higher education institution owned by the IIE, started offering the LLB at six of its campuses last year.
It registered about 200 first-year students last year, and the figure grew to about 400 this year.
A parent of a student learnt with shock earlier last year when told by the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society (KZNLS) that the LLB offered at Varsity College does not meet the requirements for admission into the field.
During its talks with the IIE, the KZNLS went on to maintain its position that it only recognised LLB graduates from public universities.
This happened despite the IIE being accredited to teach the four-year LLB degree.
The IIE tasted victory at the Pietermaritzburg High Court in February. The court declared the contested section unconstitutional.
But the ruling did not bring finality to the issue, as the questionable legislation still needed to be amended by the government.
The IIE hoped to emerge from court with a ruling forcing the government to provide a timeline pertaining to when exactly it would change the troublesome legislation.
The Justice and Constitutional Development Ministry accepted during proceedings at the high court that the act should be amended.
However, the IIE’s Dr Felicity Coughlan said in court papers that the “difficulty with the ministry’s position in the court was and remains that it is unable to provide a timeline within which such amendment will take place”.
Coughlan, who is responsible for the IIE’s academic affairs, added that their students sought certainty that they were studying for a recognised degree.
“This declaration was specifically sought by the IIE to bring certainty to itself, its LLB students and it was in an effort to stem the prejudice that had been caused by the publicly known view of the KZNLS, that is, that the IIE’s LLB students would not be permitted to practise law in the country,” Coughlan said.
“It was also sought because it is still not known by when the amendments to the Legal Practice Act proposed by the Minister will be passed or implemented.”
Cited parties, which included the justice and constitutional department and the KZNLS, have until July 18 to file papers setting out their position to IIE’s application.