Back-to-back, it is breaking the camel’s back — Michael J

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FEBRUARY 27 — The Certificate in Legal Practice examination, better known by its acronym CLP, is the qualifying examination for law graduates who have obtained their law degrees from foreign or private universities.

It is one of the two most prominent pathways through which such graduates can be qualified as a lawyer in this country, the other being the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) in the UK.

Due to the pandemic, the 2020 sitting of the CLP examination has been twice postponed: from July/August to December 2020, and then to March 2021 after the third wave of Covid-19 hit us in October last year.

For those who don’t know, since CLP is a post-graduate qualification, many candidates actually have a day job while they prepare to sit for the CLP examination.

A lot of them, myself included, had actually taken unpaid leave to prepare for the examination as early as February last year, considering the examination is usually held in July or August each year.

Little did we know a pandemic would hit us this hard. With the movement control order (MCO) and the postponement of the CLP exam, our livelihood was disrupted badly.

When the MCO first hit, we had absolutely no idea whether we would have the exam in July, and should it be postponed, till when.

We were not informed of any tentative dates by the Legal Profession Qualifying Board (LPQB), the statutory body in charge of organising this examination. No news, no updates, nothing.

It was only towards the end of August, the LPQB released a notice that the exam would be held in December 2020. We were relieved: finally the dates were out; but at the same time, our adrenaline level started rising as we got into battle-ready mode for the most important examination ever.

We were naïve. None of us had that prophetic sight to know a third wave would hit us in October 2020, the aftermath of the Sabah state election.

Since CLP is a post-graduate qualification, many candidates actually have a day job while they prepare to sit for the CLP examination. — Unsplash pic
Since CLP is a post-graduate qualification, many candidates actually have a day job while they prepare to sit for the CLP examination. — Unsplash pic

The LPQB released a notice the second day after Kuala Lumpur was put under the conditional movement control order (CMCO), informing us that the examination would be postponed yet again, tentatively to March 2021.

At this point we were furious. How many times was the LPQB willing to postpone the examination? What if come February, the number of cases is still high (guess how right we were), how can we, the candidates, be assured that this would not result in yet another postponement?

We began to reach out to the LPQB through any means we had. We left comments on their Facebook page, we wrote emails to the Board, we requested our teaching institutions, which are stakeholders, talk to the LPQB.

We did not want a postponement. There are other things that could have been done other than postpone the examination altogether, including the possibility of an online examination (as other professional exams have done the same, and since most of our classes were done online anyway).

There were alternatives that could have been taken to avoid cramming two thousand over candidates from the entire Malaysia in one hall in Kuala Lumpur.

No. That was the Board’s reply, in essence. One representative from our institution told us that the Board’s officers did not even want to meet him. He was told that “we (the Board) have made our decision. It is final, we don’t entertain any appeal.”

We had no choice but to accept this decision of theirs. We soldiered on, carried on with our preparation, all with the fear that the exam will get postponed again if things don’t get better by January 2021.

Just when we guessed that the exam would once again be postponed when the number of cases hit 5,000 in January 2021, the LPQB surprised us by releasing the confirmed dates for the long overdue 2020 sitting.

To quote Ramsay Bolton from Game of Thrones, “If you think it’s gonna be a happy ending, then you haven’t been paying attention.” One month before the scheduled examination, the LPQB decided to reschedule one of the papers (Criminal Procedure) from April 2, 2021 (Friday) to April 5, 2021 (Monday).

The reason given was that Muslims candidates might want to fulfil their Friday prayer (Solat Fardhu Jumaat), and the originally scheduled time (10.30am to 1.45pm) will encroach into the prayer time.

However, there is another paper (Evidence) on the following day: April 6, 2021 (Tuesday). This means we will have to sit for two papers back-to-back without any days in between for buffer.

For years or even decades, candidates had been given at least a one-day gap between each and every paper, and it is extremely important because there are literally tonnes of materials, statutory provisions, case laws that candidates need to remember for each paper.

That one — or two-day buffer in between the papers enables the candidates to at least rest, clear their minds, and fill in with the information needed for the next paper.

With the rescheduling, candidates essentially are expected to go into the exam hall with materials for Subject A, finish the paper, go home, immediately offload your mind of these materials, and reload it with materials for Subject B: two papers, two days, back-to-back.

This issue could have been avoided had LPQB been more careful when planning the schedule in the first place. Instead, the candidates are forced to face the consequences for an oversight or lack of thought on the LPQB’s part.

None of the issues mentioned above were ever discussed with us before a final decision was made. No roundtable, no consultation, no opinion survey, absolutely nothing.

The LPQB makes a decision, and we are expected to follow religiously. No appeals entertained. No feedback welcomed, no criticism accepted. Comments on their FB page have also been hidden.

To rub salt into the wound, this batch of candidates suffering from this oversight is the same batch who had to pay increased exam fees (LPQB’s justification was that they had not been revising the fees for 15 years), who had their examination postponed twice, who had to waste seven months of their lives waiting for the exam to come, all at the expense of their livelihood and career progression.

The least the LPQB can do for this unfortunate batch is to give them the one-day gap they deserve, as it has always been given for previous sittings.

Having two equally bulky papers to prepare back-to-back might really be the last straw that breaks the camel’s back.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of Malay Mail.

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