Call for reforms as more law students fail their bar exam

Lawyer Fred Ojiambo, who chairs a taskforce on legal sector reforms at a past event. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • This decline has in turn been attributed to the decline in quality and standards of training and apprenticeship.”
  • The taskforce now wants the 8,549 candidates to be identified and profiled by the CLE.

A report has laid bare the massive failure of law students seeking to be admitted as advocates of the High Court of Kenya between 2009 to 2016.

Out of 16,086 students who sat for the Bar examinations administered by Council of Legal Education (CLE), only 7,530 passed while 8,549 failed, which translates to 53 per cent failure.

The report by a taskforce on legal sector reforms that was chaired by prominent lawyer Fred Ojiambo, is set to be discussed by stakeholders at a major conference in Mombasa that started Monday and will run until January 18.


The conference is being attended by representatives of universities, CLE and other players in the legal profession. The taskforce was set up by the Attorney General in September 2016 to look at the training of legal professions in the country.

The report points out that 5,298 students, who failed bar exams are actively involved in employment in law firms, county governments, universities, among others sectors.

About 47 of the students are in law firms; county governments have employed 10 per cent of them, others work in the Judiciary, parastatals , office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, academics  among other fields.

About 53 students who failed their examination in 2009; 62 in 2010; 324 in 2011; 595 in 2012; 1,113 in 2013 are still in the system hoping to pass the exams in subsequent attempts. For 2013, students who failed but are still in the system are 1,365; 1,786 for 2015; while 2016 has the highest number of failures at 3,251.

For instance in 2016, only 1,009 students passed the Bar exams while 3251 failed.


The report indicates that candidates who failed the examination had obtained their undergraduate degrees in some of the local universities.

Kenyatta University leads with 30 per cent, Moi University is at 22 per cent, University of Nairobi Parkland Campus (20 per cent), Catholic University of Eastern Africa (8) and Kabarak University (6).

Others are University of Nairobi Mombasa Campus (5), Nazerene University (2), Mount Kenya University (4) and Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (2).

“Unfortunately, while the number of graduates has increased, there have been concerns about deterioration in the quality, professional capacity, and competence of these graduates as they transition into practitioners.

This decline has in turn been attributed to the decline in quality and standards of training and apprenticeship.”

On average, there was  a 21 per cent increase per annum in the enrolment of students into Bar programme between 2009 and 2016.


“There is a relationship between the increased enrolment and fail rate. As the number of students enrolled in the LL.B programme increases, the failure rate similarly increases,” adds the report.

The taskforce now wants an exit avenue to be provided to students who are still in the system such as paralegals.

“This is partly because of heavy investment already spent on these persons.

“The other avenue is to urge the council to vigorously enforce quality standards, facilities and resources at legal education providers to improve the quality of training which will, in turn, improve pass rates at the law schools and during  advocates training programmes.”

The taskforce now wants the 8,549 candidates to be identified and profiled by the CLE.

The taskforce also want a limit on number of attempts at the bar examination.


Currently Bar examination candidates are permitted to attempt the examination within 5 years.

Upon exhausting the maximum number of attempts, an applicant may be permitted  to attempt the Bar examination within a further five years subject however, to the candidate being re-admitted  to the advocates training programme afresh as the curriculum for the first 5 years will have to run its course.

The task of the team was to evaluate, review, and make recommendations on – suitability and quality of legal education and professional legal training curriculum, standards, entry qualification criteria and delivery systems.

Other terms of reference was legal sector practice, licensing and membership process, institutional structure criteria and participation mechanism.

Members of the taskforce were the chairperson of Kenya Law Reform Commission Mr Mbage Nganga, outgoing Director for Public Prosecutions Keriako Tobiko, Chief Registrar of the Judiciary Ann Amadi, chairperson of Advocates Complaint Commission Beauttah Siganga, Law Society of Kenya president Isaac Okero among others.


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