Learning the law the wrong way-theSun 19 August 2009

Learning the law the wrong way

ANYONE wanting to study

law is always advised to read

Professor Glanville Willams’

book Learning the Law.

The book, which was first

published in 1945, continues to

introduce students to the skills

needed to study law effectively.

It is an easy to read, accessible,

and down-to-earth book. No,

today’s column is not a book

review but it has got to do with

a lot of issues which involve

the law, law students and issues

of public interest.

Just when we decided to close the files on

the infamous palace in Port Klang built by its

former state assemblyman Datuk Zakaria Mat

Deros, his name has been resurrected in the

form of an answer to an academic question

which read: Provide the land reforms/controversies

in Penang, Selangor, Perak and Kedah.

For purposes of easy reading, it is reproduced








If you thought it was the work of a lower

secondary student, you are mistaken. This is

the handiwork of a law student in a public

university in Selangor. The frightening fact is

that in two or three years, he could be standing

up in a court of law appearing on your behalf

in a civil case or defending someone accused

of murder. He could also be the man who will

be perusing the million-ringgit contract documents

on behalf of the government.

If the “England is not that powerderful”

enough to send you into a fit of anger and disgust

or for that matter into laughter until you have a belly-ache,

the wannabe-lawyer’s

knowledge of issues is zilch. He

just picked his facts out of thin

air or was relying on ill-founded

rumours. He needn’t have pored

over voluminous books or law

reports because the Zakaria case

never went to court. On the contrary,

for more than a year from

October 2007, his name made

headlines in every newspaper

in the country. A Google search

would have provided enough

material than what was not only

concocted but also misleading.

But this was not the only answer

script that was sighted. We saw, read

and digested scores of them, all of

which had two common denominations

– atrocious language and wrong

information. Some answers provided

are unprintable because if they are

reproduced, this writer and the publisher

may be prosecuted under the

Sedition Act. The knowledge of current

affairs and issues is so

shallow and perhaps the

minds of some of them

have been so twisted

that they cannot think

rationally. They appear

to see issues through

narrow-minded thinking

and their answers

border on racism

suggesting that land is

being stolen from one

community and given to

another. How they arrived

at such conclusions is beyond us but

we can assume that they relied on

friends or family, who were equally

ill-informed. Almost every student offered

racial connotations or had racial

undertones in their answers.

The sad end to this saga is that the

examiner who failed this student and

17 others was ordered to re-mark and

make them pass. She refused and is

now on the streets because her conscience

refused to allow her to do so.

She had set her own grading criteria

which was approved by the university

and stuck to it. One student got just

four marks out of a possible 60 and for

doing her job religiously, the examiner

was labelled a “pengkhianat” (traitor).

We have been told that the dean of the

faculty took it upon himself to change

the marks. This student will be one

of the many who, in a few years, will

be admitted to the Bar because there

seem to be different sets of criteria

for the various institutions of higher


Last Sunday, Higher Education

Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled

Nordin urged private universities to

focus on improving their research

capabilities and provide more postgraduate

opportunities to emerge as

world-class institutions.

“Private universities should have

clear long-term goals to reach further

heights if Malaysia is to be a regional

educational hub. The ministry’s role

is to facilitate that growth and ensure

that quality is maintained,” the Star

quoted him as saying.

But what about public universities,

Datuk? Isn’t anyone checking on the

quality? Doesn’t anyone pick answer

scripts at random to review them? Are

we lowering the standards so that we

can claim to have more graduates? Are

we creating “sure-to-pass” universities

because we want to be recorded in that

book as the “country with the highest

number of graduates”? And then, we

go around moaning and groaning

about local graduates not being able

to find employment.

Why are courses being offered to

students who are not proficient in the

medium of instruction? Why can’t

students be first sent for a foundation

course in the language before being

allowed to take the course proper? Are

we in a hurry to produce less-than competent


Now back to the Williams. Will the

dean or someone in charge of the law

faculties in our universities make this

book compulsory reading for students

before they even attend the first lecture?

But knowing our system, they

would provide the book allowance

which would finally end up at some

warung! On a more serious note, the

book covers almost all areas including

methods of study, technical terms, case

law technique, interpretation of statutes

and research. Besides, nothing is more

educational than keeping abreast by

reading the newspapers everyday. As

students in UK, we were up-to-date on

legal issues by reading the law reports

in The Times but the other sections of

the newspaper kept us informed of

the events and happenings around the

world. If only the university students

had read newspapers, they won’t be

giving silly and wrong analysis of local


R. Nadeswaran graduated with a law

degree at 46. After 12 years, he is as

passionate about education as he was

when he started. He is editor (special

and investigative reporting). Feedback:


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