The Tunisian government’s decision to overhaul the system of educating and examining law students wishing to become judges has sparked widespread student dissent. Students have been boycotting examinations and classes, while staging protests and demonstrations, although a partial retreat by the government has mollified some protestors.
The uproar was sparked by a 13 March decree, No 345 Article 4, stipulating a change in regulations regarding entry requirements to the “Concours de Magistrature”, the national examination taken by students wishing to train as judges published in the Official Journal of the Republic of Tunisia. The decree stipulated that only masters graduates of law can now sit the judges’ examination with immediate effect.
Under the old rules, inscribed in Decree No 99-1290 of June 1999, undergraduate first degree students (with qualifications called a licence) were able to sit for the exam.
Students and their representatives at the five faculties and two institutes of law at the universities of Carthage, Tunis, Sousse, Jendouba, Sfax, Kairouan and Gabès have been protesting against the new law, claiming it is unfair, along with its hasty introduction. They have been supported by the General Union of Tunisian Students or l'Union générale des étudiants Tunisiens.
The government reacted to the upset with an 18 April amendment to the decree, stating that the change would only apply to students starting their law degrees in the 2017-18 academic year. While this dampened protests and boycotts at some law faculties, especially regarding lecture attendance, there was a boycott of exams at Carthage University in Tunis on 24 April with a sit-in demonstration.
Adnan Gargoli, a student representative at the faculty of juridical, political and social sciences at the University of Carthage, said the decree “interfered in the making of judges”. He argued that masters degrees were for “academic research”, while the licence “should prepare you for employment”.
Rather than changing legal examination requirements, the state should carefully review the LMD (licence, masters, doctorate) system, he said.
Gargoli said students were angered because the new decree “implies that the licence is not fit for purpose”.
Mondher Tounsi, another student at the same faculty, said students felt that under the new rules “only having a licence might not in future qualify them to work in the legal sector,” and that the new decree would ultimately constitute a major change in qualification requirements.
An official at the Ministry of Justice who requested anonymity argued that reform was needed and that the current LMD system was not “sufficient for lawyers”. He said the intention was “to create transparency in the examinations” because there “is a need to raise the level of the education system”.
He said an ongoing problem was inequality in training for the three main fields of law: administrative, financial and judicial. However, he admitted that the latest change had been “brusque”.
Clashes with police
The protests have been intensified by clashes with police. Students took to the streets on 11 April demonstrating outside government offices in Tunis. Gargoli claimed that 40 students were beaten by police with batons and rocks, resulting in students being treated in hospital.
Nour Jelili, another student at the Carthage faculty, told University World News that she had witnessed and photographed the violence and was subsequently followed by police. Jelili alleged that doctors treating students refused to give students certificates proving their injuries which would enable them to make complaints against police officers.
The Ministry of the Interior further angered students by denying any police violence in statements made on television on 13 April. This fuelled a second wave of mass demonstrations the following day, also accompanied by a heavy police presence. University World News counted at least 17 police vehicles full of personnel on the scene before the demonstration and a further eight police vehicles and more police motorbikes during the demonstration.
Many police were in full riot gear armed with long batons and rubber bullet guns. University World News witnessed four injured students being pulled from the crowd and into ambulances.
Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry official said that a special government commission was reviewing the education, training and examination of law students and would continue its work until 15 July.
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