Law is now taught at all the three major universities in Fiji. Until 2008, students were only able to study law at the University of the South Pacific (USP).
Then, largely as a result of initiatives driven by retired Justice Devendra Pathik, the University of Fiji (UniFiji) opened the doors of its own Law School in Samabula.
From 2010, UniFiji began offering a fully-fledged undergraduate law programme at its Saweni campus near Lautoka.
With a small nucleus of motivated staff, UniFiji has already produced around 30 law graduates. All of them have joined the legal profession.
A month or so ago, Fiji National University (FNU) too announced its decision to enter the Fijian legal education market by offering undergraduate law courses under arrangements which it has brokered with London University.
With three competitors in the market, all sorts of questions are now being asked about the sustainability of the programmes, their respective quality and value.
Last September, UniFiji appointed Julian Moti, QC, as its first Professor of Law to spearhead the development of its postgraduate law programme.
Professor Moti is based at UniFiji’s Samabula campus and resides in Suva. He was born in Lautoka and is a dual citizen of both Fiji and Australia.
He is a graduate of the University of Sydney, Australian National University and University of Technology, Sydney.
An expert in constitutional law and international law, he has practiced law in Australia, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
He has also taught law at established universities in Australia and India.
He is probably better known, if not remembered, globally in his former role as Attorney- General of the Solomon Islands.
The Fiji Sun decided to confront Professor Moti with a series of questions concerning the current boom in the Fijian legal education market and extract his thoughts on UniFiji’s new postgraduate law programme.
Here are excerpts from our interview:
Jyoti Pratibha (JP): Welcome back to your homeland, Professor Moti. Are you having some misgivings about your decision to join UniFiji after FNU just unveiled its plan to start yet another law school in Fiji?
Julian Moti (JM): Thank you for making me feel so welcomed at home, Jyoti.
No, absolutely no misgivings from me whatsoever. From my perspective, UniFiji’s postgraduate law programme is unaffected by whatever FNU has decided to do. More than anything, we will have a larger reservoir to tap into for future intakes of postgraduate candidates when FNU eventually graduates their students several years from now.
I am not an economist and, therefore, unqualified to comment on the rationality, sense and sensibility of having so many law schools producing so many lawyers every year.
Perhaps, increasing the number of lawyers per capita may not be such a bad thing if that’s what people really want even if they don’t need them.
But I’d be the last person in the world to protest about the intrinsic value of a legal education to anyone.
Look where it has taken me thus far!
JP: So FNU’s ambition to establish a viable programme of legal studies poses no current threat to what UniFiji is developing under your direction.
How does your postgraduate law course compare with what is currently available at USP?
JM: I am told that it is possible to undertake a Master of Laws (LLM) degree at USP by coursework and thesis.
Those who have graduated from USP tell me that they were able to combine their coursework with research and submission of dissertations.
The strength of USP’s teaching and learning traditions also draws on its long experience with remote education and well-constructed systems of internet-based tuition.
Regardless, students require considerable self-discipline to do well.
My own experience with learning, teaching and practicing law in several jurisdictions for more than two and a half decades is reflected in UniFiji’s emphasis on cultivating each individual student’s full potential in the courses we offer for selection in our LLM programme.
Our LLM students will not be short-changed on quality, resources and time to ensure they have mastered the knowledge and skills they need to possess before they can graduate.
JP: Your expertise in the fields of constitutional law and international law is widely recognised in the Pacific region and elsewhere. Are those subjects featured in UniFiji’s LLM curriculum?
JM: Yes, we offer several new courses in Comparative Constitutional Law, International Investment Law, International Commercial Law, International Environmental Law and International and Comparative Labour Law to equip our students with the requisite theoretical knowledge and practical skills to advance their future careers in these fields of specialisation.
With the objective of exposing students to selected problems which beset the application of international law in this region, I have also developed another course called International Law: Pacific Puzzles.
All of the subjects we teach at UniFiji Law School are firmly grounded on materials, contexts and experiences that are either specifically Fijian or distinctly Melanesian.
JP: The main complaint of past and present law students in this country is that existing systems of learning and teaching law are predominantly web-based with very limited scope for direct instruction in traditional classroom settings. How does UniFiji’s LLM programme respond to those criticisms and overcome them?
JM: I am a product of the Socratic tradition of teaching and learning law and see particular virtue in that method of instruction for the postgraduate courses I will be teaching at UniFiji.
Students who enroll for an LLM degree do so for reasons of their own so that they can stand apart from their peers by upgrading their substantive knowledge base.
Among the attractions of teaching and learning law in smaller class sizes must be the intensity of engagement in that exercise and the level of individual attention that students can expect to receive.
Because we will keep a lid on our intakes, UniFiji students will have the opportunity to be assessed and examined in a variety of novel ways. Outmoded examination techniques have no place in the courses I teach.
JP: Do you expect much interest in your postgraduate law programme from Fijian lawyers?
JM: Indeed I do, and a sizable number have already signed up with us to commence studies in a couple of weeks.
We still have some space left and law graduates of any vintage should come and discuss their study and vocational plans with us.
Both older practitioners and recent graduates have reason to return to Law School to learn something new or expand the depth and breadth of things they already know.
For once in their lives, those who choose to pursue postgraduate legal studies do so because they want to; and not because they have to.
Theirs is a commitment born out of passion rather than compulsion. Those who miss out on enrollment with us this semester still have the option to join our intake for the next semester.
Both UniFiji’s acting Law School dean Salvin Nand, who is based at our Saweni Campus, and I will be only too happy to answer queries from prospective LLM students from anywhere in Fiji and abroad.
JP: Many lawyers in Fiji look up to you as a leading example of Fijian professional courage, tenacity and intellectual prowess.
You’re incredibly resilient despite all that you’ve endured. Will your unmatched experience and approachability be the “icing on the cake” for UniFiji’s LLM students?
JM: You’re definitely flattering me, Jyoti. I didn’t know I was regarded here in that way.
As I’ve said before, we all have much to learn and unlearn from my experience of elsewhere.
What I can say quite confidently is our LLM students at UniFiji will be constantly challenged to surpass their own intellectual expectations and profit from the collective knowledge and experience of all those who teach them.
Suva (Fiji Sun)