Law students banned from sitting for bar examination

The Cameroon Bar Association has urged the country’s government to find a lasting solution to the predicament faced by Cameroonian law students who are studying in Rwanda, but who have been refused the opportunity to sit for the Rwandan bar’s exams.

About 400 law students from Cameroon are affected, according to a statement by the Cameroon Bar Association on 15 September.

According to the association, Cameroonian law students in Rwanda have, since August 2022, been lobbying the Cameroon government about their exclusion from the Rwandan bar exams because the Cameroon authorities have not agreed to reciprocity, meaning that it does not want to offer Rwandan students in Cameroon the opportunity to sit for the bar exam in Cameroon.

“The authorities of Rwanda say there is no reciprocity of laws between the 1990 law on legal practice in Cameroon. That is, while Rwanda can admit Cameroonians in their law school and their bar association, Cameroon law does not allow Rwandans into the Cameroon bar in Cameroon,” barrister Ebah Justice Ntoko, a member of the Cameroon Bar Council, the body that coordinates bar activities, told University World News.

A Rwandan legal expert has also confirmed the dilemma to University World News.

Moise Nkundabarashi, the president of the Rwanda Bar Association, said foreign students from law schools who want to join the association should be from the countries who signed a reciprocity agreement with Rwanda.

“Foreign lawyers are required by the law to produce proof of reciprocity to be admitted at the Rwanda Bar Association. Cameroon has not signed the reciprocity pact with Rwanda, and that means students who graduate in Rwandan universities and want to join the association don’t fulfil the requirements,” said Nkundabarashi.

A diplomatic solution?

In a bid to find a lasting solution to the disalignment between the two countries’ laws, the Cameroon Bar Association is pushing the Cameroon government to seek a diplomatic understanding to bail out the frustrated students while they wait for the amendment to the Cameroon 1990 law.

Mbah Eric Mbah, the president of the Cameroon Bar Association, notified advocates and students of the Institute of Legal Practice and Development in Rwanda that he was invited to a working session by Mbella Mbella Lejeune, the Cameroon minister of external relations, according to the statement.

The Bar Council president was accompanied to the discussions by a high-level delegation, including barrister Kouamo Yves Kless, the general assembly president, barrister Ngo Minyogog Anne Yolande, the bar secretary, barrister Fouegoum Younta Douanla Adeline, the representative of the bar president for central, south and east regions, barrister Tamo David, the representative for external relations and Deputy Bar Secretary barrister Moussa Ganava.

Their discussions focused on the situation of Cameroonian students who are candidates of the Rwandan bar exam and have been denied access to sit for the exams and the way forward, the release, signed by Ganava, said.

Cameroon bar officials say the discussions with the government addressed the current situation with proposed solutions to salvage the situation.

“The government has been considering a diplomatic approach, while looking for ways to improve on the law. We think the Cameroon Ministry of Justice has to accept responsibility and regularly organise bar exams in Cameroon to prevent a mass exodus by law students to seek solace in foreign bar associations,” Ntoko told University World News.

He says bar exams have not been written in Cameroon since 2014.

His view was corroborated by barrister Mbanya Bolivie Petnga who thinks the solution is tied up in a 1990 law on the organisation of legal practice in Cameroon.

“The regular writing of the bar exams as prescribed in the law is key to avoiding this type of embarrassment faced by law students. This might allay the fears of most of the students while the politicians are dabbling with other potential solutions,” he told University World News.

Poor governance

Prior to the Yaoundé meeting with government, the president of the Cameroon bar visited the Rwanda bar some few weeks back for discussions on how best to solve the situation, he said.

According to Cameroon bar officials, it is the failure of the Cameroon Ministry of Justice which has the mandate to organise regular bar exams that permit law graduates to enter the bar that has resulted in a massive exodus of graduates into foreign countries.

“The failure of the ministry of justice to launch the bar exams has caused Cameroonian law graduates to find solace in attending prestigious law schools In Nigeria, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and so on,” Ntoko told University World News.

After graduating from any of the above law schools, a successful candidate is called to the said foreign bar association, he or she can now seek direct entry into the Cameroon Bar Association. This mode is engraved in black and white in the 1990 law organising legal practices in Cameroon, Ntoko explained.

Law experts say the absence of reciprocity in the Cameroon law is, unfortunately, frustrating students who take the foreign law school option as bar associations in other countries are beginning to reject them.

“Recently, the Nigerian Bar Association has come up with stringent measures in admitting law students from Cameroon. And, by extension, the Gambian and Sierra Leonean law schools are also not easily accessible,” Ntoko said.

Another big challenge faced by Cameroon law students seeking to join the bar in foreign countries is the slow administrative procedures in obtaining the originals of the certificates they obtained in their home country.

“It is sometimes very frustrating, as students are unable to obtain the original copies of their certificates from their home countries, a prerequisite to sit for the bar exams. This may be due to administrative bottlenecks. We think the government really has to improve on the governance crisis in the country,” barrister Ehabe Eboa Samuel told University World News.

Additional reporting by Jean d’Amour Mbonyinshuti.