Victory for Varsity College as court legitimises law degree
High court ruling puts its LLB degree on the same footing as a degree from any public university
Students who began studying towards the LLB degree at Varsity College campuses around the country can breathe a sigh of relief now that the private education institution has won a court case which legitimises the degree.
On Friday, Acting Pietermaritzburg High Court Judge Carol Sibiya declared as “constitutionally invalid” a section of the Legal Practice Act which dictates that only “university graduates” can enter the profession.
Varsity College, which trades under the name Independent Institute of Education (IEE), began offering the degree at the beginning of 2018 after securing the required accreditation.
But after some of the country’s law societies pointed out the “university” clause in the act, fuming parents started pulling their children out of the course.
The IEE launched an urgent high court application, arguing it had 200 registered LLB students and 300 doing commercial law which could progress to LLB degrees, whose lives were on hold because of “antiquated legislation which had not kept pace with the times”.
While the minister of justice and constitutional development admitted that non-recognition of private higher education institutions in the new act was a mistake – a “cut and paste” from the old Attorneys Act – and an amendment was in the pipeline, the KwaZulu-Natal Law Society opposed the IEE application.
Its stance was simply that the law is the law and it would not recognise the degree and admit graduates who had not studied at universities.
In her ruling, Judge Sibiya said it was not disputed that the LLB offered by Varsity College was exactly the same as that offered by universities.
She said she could find no rational basis for differentiating between persons with LLB degrees obtained from different institutions.
“Limiting the entry into a profession when there is no material distinction between what is offered by a university and by the IEE cannot be said to be anything but arbitrary.” Of the Law Society’s stance, the judge said that while it is a “noble pursuit in principle”, there was no merit to it.
The judge said there was no need to dictate to parliament regarding the amendment because one was already in the process.
However, to give protection to those who have already started the degree and who will graduate at the earliest in 2021, she ruled that they be deemed to be “as qualified to enter the practice of the legal profession as graduates from public universities”.
IEE attorney Nic Kinsley said: “My client is very pleased with the outcome and the effect of the order for their LLB students.”