Law deans to create continental collaboration forum

African law deans have resolved to set up a forum for collaboration between law schools across the continent, at a meeting in South Africa where some of the problems facing the schools were highlighted.

The African Law Deans Forum was held in Johannesburg last month, and the deans pledged to continue meeting.

Hosted by the University of Venda, the forum brought together 25 participants, from Kenya, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

According to a report by the deans after the meeting, International Association of Law Schools leaders also attended: President Francis Wang, General Secretary Barbara Holden-Smith and a board member from Africa, Amy Tsanga.

According to the report, Annette Lansink, dean of business at Venda, stressed the need to define what is important for African law deans and to discuss issues such as what African law is and in particular the marginal role of African law and Africa-focused ideas in the curriculum.

She raised the issue of whether law schools on the continent are doing enough to develop the status of normative legal scholarship, given the rise of empirical research in certain areas of law, such as human rights law.

Lansink alluded to discussions in South Africa on the duration of the LLB degree as an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, and the influence of the profession on the curriculum as well as the role of law clinics in legal education.

Group discussions discussed, among other things, the importance of ensuring that law schools produce strong normative research, and the need to foster student skills in conducting this kind of research.

The report said the deans also felt that social science’s influence on legal research was significant, and noted that most journal articles on human rights law currently emphasise empirical research. The influence of social sciences on normative legal scholarship was deemed necessary to help answer questions of what a just legal order is.

The deans resolved to increase collaboration, and agreed to establish a task team to look into issues of the structure, governance and focus of a collaborative association.

The deans noted that intra-African linkages were often ineffective, even if they were part of university agreements, and that to resolve this problem, attitudes needed to be changed.