Professor Dr. Yubaraj Sangroula is the Executive Director at Kathmandu School of Law, Nepal. He is a Professor of Legal Philosophy and Advanced Jurisprudence. In 2008, he was appointed as the Convener of High-Level Taskforce for Reforms of the Security Agencies of Nepal which was constituted by the Council of Ministers of Government of Nepal. He was appointed as the Attorney General, the Chief Legal Advisor, and Chief Prosecutor of the Government of Nepal in 2011. Prof. Sangroula has also been awarded the title of ‘Senior Advocate’ by the Supreme Court of Nepal. He has teaching experience of more than 30 years. His primary fields of research and expertise are Criminal Justice System, Jurisprudence, Eastern Philosophy, and Constitutional Law. Prof. Sangroula has written many books in his field of expertise.
1. First of all, why did you chose your career in law? How did you get inspired to study law?
YS: In 1972, there was a new movement in the education sector of Nepal. It was around the time when I had joined law school. At that wake-up change, an Institute of Law was established and the government was prioritising to legal education. It was believed that legal education was soon going to be one of the mainstream fields of education in Nepal like medical and engineering fields. The government established this separate institute, and a 5-year course beginning from secondary school was started to educate a new generation of employees for the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Supreme Court, and the Attorney General's Office. So, that was a thriving time for legal education in Nepal, and this attracted a lot of young people like me. I can, therefore, say that it was the very vocational professional aspect of this legal education that attracted me in a broader sense.
If you want to know of a particular event or affair that attracted me to join the legal education then it was the science used in the criminal justice system. I had a chance to hear an argument made by a lawyer in the court. The case was related to a murder and the lawyer argued that the scene of the crime where the bodies were found did not have even a spot of blood. He continued to argue that the absence of blood suggests that the bodies were killed somewhere else and thrown or possibly dumped there. Therefore, as the accused were charged with killing the victims in that place, and as evidence was absent, the charge against them was wrong. I had noticed at that time, the court was taking note of this important argument and later on released all the 15-16 people charged by the prosecutor. This particular instance attracted me towards the legal profession and I felt that it is very important as you could protect the lives of those people who are unfortunate. That incident was the specific inspiration that drew me beside the environment created by the government at that time.
2. Instead of giving continuation to your successful career as a lawyer, you chose to delve into the teaching field. Why?
YS: I had the inspiration to become a professor of law from my college days. I had better instincts for teaching than practicing. The philosophy of law attracted me along with the comparative jurisprudence of the oriental and the occidental society. After I returned from India on completion of my Master's degree, there was a possibility for people like me to teach because legal education was thriving and there were very few people who had a Master's degree in law. Therefore, there was an opportunity to become a professor faster than competing in the legal profession.
In the meantime, I was involved in practicing law, and it was a lucrative profession for me. It was fascinating to go to the Supreme Court and other courts for almost 10 years. But after some time, the cases started feeling all the more similar. In murder cases and land disputes, the parties were different but the issues were the same. Therefore, in the beginning, the cases were very fascinating and attractive but after some years of practice, the issue would be repeated. I thought the legal profession in terms of law practice is very good, but for a person like me who is more interested to do research, explore new issues, write articles and engage in academic activities, it was not satisfactory. I found life very monotonous so I thought I should devote more time to academics and I put more time into teaching than practicing law.
Another factor was also involved in my teaching career. In 1992, we had embarked on multiparty democracy in Nepal with many things yet to be decided, the life of people changed a lot. Academic institutions were also affected by this political change as a result of which, democracy, rule of law, human rights became very important issues of debate and discussion in universities. At that point, I got involved in bringing a new concept of Clinical Legal Education program in Nepal. That was the project introduced in Tribhuvan University Law Faculty and I was coordinating it tirelessly. There were a lot of outreach activities within this program and we had to go to many remote districts with several students and engage in activities like moot court competitions, counselling, and mediation training to the students. Therefore, I did not have enough time to participate in the law practice and I shifted to legal academics.
3. You have a teaching experience of more than thirty years. What do you think is the best part of teaching?
YS: The best part of teaching is satisfaction. The satisfaction as said by Socrates, the satisfaction as said by Brihaspati (Oriental scholar) and the satisfaction most prominently as said by Chanakya (Oriental scholar), the knowledge. If your mind is filled with knowledge, it does not allow the creation of evil. It does not allow envy and conspiracies to be created in the mind. The best thing about teaching is you read a lot of books, a lot of articles, you keep yourself abreast of new development and then you go to class and teach the students. So you learn and you teach. What is the difference between a teacher and non-teacher intellectual? A non-teaching intellectual reads a lot of books, makes notes but the knowledge is closed within their written diary.But a teacher who studies and reads books and articles, and researches, goes to the classroom, and transfers this knowledge to the students. One research would be going to hundreds of students, sparking more knowledge. Therefore, it is satisfaction, wisdom based satisfaction.
4. In your long teaching experience, what changes do you see in the new generation of students compared to the past ones? Would you describe the change as a positive or negative change?
YS: You can see tremendous changes now. It is very difficult to encapsulate the changes that I have seen in the last twenty years.The prediction we had while establishing Kathmandu School of Law twenty years ago is now turning out to be true. Many students are working in the government, in the judiciary, at the Attorney General's office, as a barrister, and other legal professions.
Out of all the law students in Nepal, around 80% are products of the country while the rest come from other countries after attaining their degree. Kathmandu School of Law has also contributed a large number of students to that proportion. What the entire 100% of the new generation of students have in common is the understanding that the legal profession does not mean limiting yourself to the courtroom, it can be practiced within the Ministry of Law, the Attorney General's office, the government or the society entirely. There is a diversification of thinking in the legal profession. The young generation is without any hesitation going to work in the social sector, business sector, judicial sector, and legal sector. This was not the situation in my time when everybody becomes a lawyer and goes to court. Therefore, this is a change in understanding, which is one of the most notable changes in the young generation.
Second, in my time a very few students spoke a second language. Few lawyers knew Japanese, fewer lawyers spoke Chinese, and a small number knew English and some French. The lawyer who could speak English were the elites in the legal profession. But now you see the young generation has command of at least two languages. A large number of the young generation have very good command in English and also a good command in Nepali. Though I am not fully satisfied with their command in Nepali, I can firmly assure that they have a certain command over it. Now, there is an aim to learn a third language. We are now teaching Chinese in Kathmandu School of Law. China has a huge business market, so we should use it.
In the past, we thought that one would be considered a legal professional only after they graduate. But now institutions are emphasizing that a student should start behaving like a professional during their student life.
Thus I will not hesitate in saying that I have not heard of any pupil from the young generation who have finished this education involved in corruption, or unethical practices. I believe 90% of the students involved in modern-legal education are not unethical lawyers, they are professional lawyers. For example, not long ago, there was a case in the Permanent Court of Arbitration with regards to the dispute between a Chinese company and Nepal Electricity Authority with regards to installation of transmissions line between India and Nepal. I was asked by the Nepal Electricity Authority to work as a senior lawyer and there were three lawyers, young lawyers, working with me on that case. It was a fantastic experience. As compared to the Chinese team, in terms of performance, in terms of our attitude, assertiveness, in terms of English language, in terms of professional etiquette and precision of speech, we were far better. I was so happy to have those three kids working with me. They were well-organized and had prepared everything for me. They did research and I was just wrapping up and interjecting.I see that fifteen years from now there will be very important changes in Nepal's legal profession and Nepal's justice system. First, Nepal's judicial and legal profession will be dominated by females with over 60% practicing. Therefore, I believe discrimination will be addressed by a positive education system. If all institutions add up the practice of encouraging women to come to the profession and train them as professionals, I think females will be way ahead.
Second, a new generation has come into the profession with better knowledge from the socio-economic base, better research skills, and better ethics. As a new generation come to the market with these three qualities, fifteen years from now Nepal's legal profession will completely be changed. Now still, these new generations are young seedlings underneath the big trees and more time is required for them to grow and older trees to fall.
5. You were appointed as the Attorney General of Nepal, the Chief legal advisor of the Government of Nepal, can you briefly describe the main responsibilities of Attorney General and what your achievements were as an Attorney General?
YS: I should say I was the first active academician appointed as the Attorney General. Before me, there were few Attorney Generals who were involved as academicians, but they too practiced law mainly. I was the first one who had teaching as their main profession and the law practice as a secondary one. The environment was different because of this fact.
After being the Attorney General, I understood that this institution was very different than the impression I had about it from outside. It was a very docile institution. There were people but not respected by the state itself as the state lawyers. Their services were not promising. The working environment was not good, training was almost absent and Attorney General staff were considered as government employees rather than professionals. So after I was elected, I became a little bit frustrated and thought it was not the right place to be in. Within a week I was very desperate but I could not resign because that would leave a negative image. But I also thought that I could not work in this environment, because my ideas will not be implemented there, new thoughts are not going to be respected, activism is not going to be accepted. I was in a big dilemma whether I should resign or continue.
I had a discussion with a couple of my close friends in Kathmandu School of Law and I also discussed with my wife and my daughters. I decided to continue as resigning could turn out to be catastrophic to my profession. But I also thought I should change this institution, so I convened a meeting and said we cannot move without having a very specific and directly developed plan of action.
I made it clear that I was not going to ask for support from any donor agencies. We would not be using any money for developing our plan of action. I asked all the Deputy Attorney Generals and Joint Government Attorneys to write articles, the problems and challenges of the institution. I started writing myself what would be the vision, mission, and strategies of the institution. We developed this plan of action in 19 days, working from morning to evening. After the completion of the plan of action, the institution had new enthusiasm to work.
Attorney General has a very powerful position in prosecution. In the Constitution of Nepal, it is the only institution head whose decision would not be challenged anywhere. If the Attorney General says 'No prosecution', you cannot challenge this decision, not by the President, not by the Prime Minister, not by the judiciary. If you decide to prosecute, then it is prosecuted and nobody can stop it, they can revoke the case, but that needs to receive assent from the court.
I talked with the Prime Minister, I explained it to the ministers, the chief secretary, most of the secretaries that this position is not trivial. I told them that if they allow the Attorney General to have a seat in the cabinet meeting, I will not participate in the discussion, but simply listen keeping the oath to not divulge information. I will learn from the discussion whether there is a violation of rule of law or not, whether there is a violation of law in general or not.
I did that and in most of the vital decisions, I learnt. I discussed and suggested corrections. Therefore, my biggest achievement was that none of the decisions of the government were challenged in the court at that time because there was a safeguard provided by the Attorney General.If an Attorney General actively works than he/she can promote the rule of law, human rights and prevent the government from falling into a chaotic situation.
For instance, people believed that untouchability (the social practice of secluding certain groups from the mainstream social life) and sexual violence issues did not have adequate laws to prosecute the offender. I was able to prosecute those criminals by using the same laws and I believed the law was adequate. I was able to prosecute the cases of mistreatment for witchcraft practices, physical assault, sexual violence, and untouchability. Therefore at that time, the Attorney General Office proved that it is a vital office.
Therefore, this institution is vital for the system but this remains docile because many Attorney Generals in the past did not take this position as a functional position rather taking it as an honorary position.
6. You have been involved in three different but somewhat connected fields, teaching, practicing law, and as a government attorney. So, which one do you think was most challenging for you?
YS: I think they are complementary to each other, so the challenges are similar. When you are a teacher, you have the challenge to impart new knowledge to the students every day, when you are a practitioner then you have to bring new interpretations of the law to the court and when you play the role of a government attorney, you have the responsibility of defending the spirit and the word of the law.
So, as you can see, all three professions have their challenges, and each of them is difficult but, without being prejudiced, I say teaching is much more difficult work than any other. It's difficult in a different sense. See, if you make a mistake as a prosecutor, your senior will improve it, reform it, and address the mistake. If a lawyer makes a mistake then it goes to the higher court, and the mistake would be rectified. But if I teach something wrong, if I impart wrong knowledge to my students, who will correct it? Nobody. So a teacher has the inherent responsibility to go to the class with a knowledge which is true and for that they have to do a lot of research, a lot of studies and even then, there stands a chance of being wrong. As a professor of law, if I teach something wrong, not only will I be doing injustice to my position as a teacher, but I would be sowing seeds of knowledge in my students that could possibly be the source of injustice. This is why I consider that teaching holds the biggest difficulty of all the professions.
7. So coming back to law students, what characteristics do you think every student should possess to study this challenging field?
YS: There are three basic professions that I always talk about: psychology, medicine, and law. In these three fields, a student would be a professional if they have this mindset of professional from the very first day they join their programs. A student practicing psychology would fail to understand what psychology itself is if they start treating patients four or five years after joining the course. But if they start becoming a psychologist from the very day they join, they will be unstoppable. The same is for medicine and law students as well.
So law students, if they want to become a very good professional as a judge, as a prosecutor, as a defence lawyer, as a law teacher they should behave exactly like that right from the start. The mentality that a law student starts off with is the determining factor in figuring out how passionate they are and how successful they will be. They should think of themselves as student lawyers. A small fraction of students, I believe, they work and study to become a professional with a sense of urgency in them, a drive that pushes them to keep moving forward. This attitude reflects in their actions. They go to the library, participate in moot courts, in seminars, meet with the lawyers, and sit together with teachers. They discuss, they fight, and they do everything in their capacity to be better. But 70% of the students, the majority, they come to class, they take notes, go back home, sleep for a couple of hours, read the notebook, go to the exam and then pass the exam.
This is one of the reasons probably why in the fifteen years of our college's existence, even though we have produced around 900 students, we can see how only about a handful, maybe a hundred of them are engaging in law practice. Most of them deviate to government offices, banking sector, NGOs, as activists, but do not work as lawyers. As I said, it's only a small portion of students who work in the legal profession or fields close to it.
This felt like a huge loss to me and still does. I read about the optimum satisfaction, the proportion of students expected to be successful in every class is only 30% even as per the statistics of Oxford University, but this analysis does not sit right with me. I believe that we cannot and should not disregard the 70% of students as trivial, but instead, we should strive for 90% of the students becoming successful and focus on that. Now the message that this implies is that the reason for the majority of students failing to become an established name in the legal profession is because of the lack of that passion from day one, which I mention always. Of course, there are chances of some of them becoming successful in other fields but since we are talking about the field of law specifically, I believe that the zeal should be there to become a lawyer from the very beginning if you choose to study law. The mentality makes all the difference.
8. You were the Founder Director of Clinical Legal Education at Tribhuvan University. Can you describe to us what it is and what benefits students will have after being engaged in Clinical Legal Education?
YS: When I was enrolled in a five-year course in Nepal Law Campus, we were taught using the same conventional orientation methodology. We were taught only theories of scholars like Austin and Bentham. Several times we were told that men and women who can use silly tricks would be successful in the legal profession. So, the first-hand outlook that we were taught was a wrong impression which does no justice to the legal profession.
However, I was lucky enough to pursue my Master's degree in India, and to be taught by some of the best professors of that time in the University of Patna, which used to be one of the very highly appreciated legal education institutions run by very prominent professors like R.C. Hingorani, an Oxford visiting professor, S.C. Singh, a socialist movement leader in India. It was a very tough degree, and I remember how I was the only one who passed from my entire batch. I vividly remember this gentleman, Prof. S E Singh, who described the significance of law in the restructuring of society and its relevance to building an egalitarian society. He was so proficient and so adapt and he had accumulated the relations of society and law in such a depth that he transformed me. He just pulled me out of the conventional, analytical legal centralist approach of law and put my thinking into society, to see how law functions and restructures it and how it restructures the psychology of the people in a society.
So, I was enticed into the social labyrinth to see and bring changes from my side. Hence, my mindset changed and I came back to Nepal with an aim in my mind to change the structure of legal education. I felt like this is not the way to educate the new generation. I did not want any more students to be indoctrinated with the analytical theories of Austin and Bentham.
What we did was gather a couple of young professors who were lecturers at that time and shared this common goal of wanting to change the entire paradigm of legal education in Nepal. We struggled a lot to convince the authorities and even when we organized a five-day-long curriculum change conference, our ideas were rejected. But luckily, I was working as one of the members in the Dean's office and also as a member of introducing the Masters’ degree program. Thus, I was fortunate enough to visit a couple of universities abroad and gain insights on how we can improve legal education back home. We visited the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law in Singapore, and Thammasat University and Chulalongkorn University in Thailand and got knowledge of their working too. The main idea we got was to adapt but in a way that preserves our originality and values. We also visited a couple of law schools in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and what we saw was different than what we had expected. We went with the impression that they would have US/UK methods of teaching but learned how it was possible to bring changes even while preserving your uniqueness.
I got involved in the initiation of clinical legal education in Nepal when I started teaching the students for their Masters' degree program and I got an urge to bring a certain change that would transform the conventional teaching style. I was extensively studying materials and papers on what Harvard, Yale, and Oxford were doing around the 1980s when I found exactly what I was trying to do. It was something that had happened in the United States because there was an emerging belief that the existing legal education would not pay off, so they introduced the clinical legal education as a pragmatic instrument of changing legal education. They kept their courses but introduced a lot of clinical activities through which students could participate in practice. Students could participate in social change, building awareness of the people, social lawyering, and street law programs defending needy people, pro bono legal aid, and so on.
I immediately thought of bringing this idea into implementation in Nepal, so I called up a friend from Bangladesh, David who was trying to do similar things back there but was partly unable to. When I visited Bangladesh for a seminar, I got introduced to a man called Nick Langton, who showed interest in my idea so he agreed to work with me to initiate clinical legal education at Tribhuvan University. I made a small proposal drawing professional training in the classrooms, and also introduced a pro bono legal aid for the people with the help of these students, and then we would argue in court as a clinical lawyer along with the introduction of moot courts for the students. He was quite impressed and thus his Asia Foundation, finalised an agreement with the government to have a project in Nepal but run from Bangladesh. And that is how we founded this program. We chose around 45 students according to their performance in university exams. It was very successful and it ran for three years in Nepal Law Campus. Then, it got extended to Pokhara and Rajbiraj (other cities of Nepal) and they started giving out incentives to work for this. I remember how at that time the university salary was about $26.47 for lecturers but this project gave almost $41.37 as it was a very rigorous and engaging job. Sailendra Dahal, a former Supreme Court Bar Association President, came to work in Asia Foundation as a program officer and together we invited one very famous professor from the U.S, Professor Clinton Bamberger. Prof. Bamberger was a legal luminary there and also one of the lawyers from the Brown v. Board of Education case. He had a huge role in making this possible. But, in no time, a lot of complications arose in the implementation of this project and there was also a lack of full support from the concerned authorities, and eventually, the Asia Foundation also pulled back its funding so it collapsed.
This made me realise that I could not work in such a restraining environment and if I wanted actual change to take place, I would have to initiate it in another way. So I resigned and introduced an institute called Center for Legal Research and Resource Development to provide clinical legal education accessibility to the student from Tribhuvan University. So we launched this programme again and the Asia Foundation supported us by supplying a lot of techniques and instruments. We started introducing this program for the new generation of lawyers and it was called 'Bridging the gap' programme so that when they graduated from law school they could have a chance to come to this programme for a 7 month long rigorous training and after three or four seasons of this, we started thinking of having the Kathmandu School of Law.
9. Many students see you as their role model and aim to follow your path. So do you have any role model who encouraged you in this career?
YS: I was impressed when I was in Nepal Law Campus by Dean Dhurba Singh Thapa. He did not have a class with us, actually, he did not find a time to go and teach. He was the first Dean to run the Institute of Law which was a completely independent professional institute. Thus, he was always busy doing administrative works. The role he played in forming the campus was so huge. He worked every day, on every part as if it was his own house and that is what drew me to respect him and why I am also dedicated to doing the same. He moulded the institution into what it is and that is the reason why we have named one of our auditoriums in Kathmandu School of Law after him.
In terms of teaching methodology, Prof. S. E. Singh and Prof. R. C. Hingorani both from Patna University, are the professors who inspired me. They were rigorous, they were vibrant, and they could bring hundreds of things together and assemble and give knowledge, so they are my role models.
In terms of being a professional, I always keep saying how a lawyer can make an impact by getting himself involved with the legal profession, teaching, and social service, and also a bit of politics. Politics, not in the partisan sense, but voicing for political issues is Clinton Bamberger. He was a democrat so he criticized political policies like he was a politician. He was a lawyer so he even participated in Brown v. Board of Education. He was the Dean in 3 very prominent schools in the USA but he was a teacher, a rigorous teacher, and most of the time he worked with the community, pro bono legal aid, taking students, preparing students to take the externship classes. So that's how these four are my role models. Clinton Bamberger in professionalism and social engineering. Prof. S. E. Singh, particularly connecting society with law, Prof. R. C. Hingorani, a very synthetic approach of jurisprudence, bringing all principles together and making something new. And here in Nepal, a sincere administrator, sincere law educator, and very ethical law professor was Dhurba Bar Singh Thapa.
10. What do you think can law students do from their side to improve the bad image that the lawyers have in general?
YS: The bad image that lawyers have in general is dismantling today, so my first advice is to not worry much about it. Second, what law students should do is engage in court affairs, go to courts with legal professional attire and they should bring healthy debates in law school with regards to the recent issues and problems. They should actively bring issues for debates on constitutional law and challenge the knowledge of lawyers, and also they should go to the bench and listen and write comments on judgments; this is one aspect of it.
Another thing is that they should engage in politics. It does not mean that they should take part in political parties or organizations, what I mean by politics is that they should deal with the political issues of society. For example, right now, one very vital issue I have been talking about a lot and challenging and fighting with the system, is whether we have the capacity to install nuclear power plants? What happens if this bursts out like in Japan and Chernobyl, how many people will be killed? This is what I mean by politics.
They should attend a lot of seminars. You can see in our college, a couple of issues were raised pertinently. For example, there was a program regarding the failure of the investigation of a rape case, there was also a very good discussion regarding the issue of construction of the international airport. We keep having a lot of discussions but still, somehow these discussions are sporadic, they still are not discussing it in a planned manner. That is the reason why Cognition Club and Philosophy Center have been created in Kathmandu School of Law, but still, we have not been able to pick up these issues as much as we would like. By doing this our students will also largely change the image of people toward them, disregarding the negative attitude that lawyers face in Nepal, spreading the impressions that they are lawyers from KSL, this is a kind of impression that is powerful. So, to do that, you need to be involved and you have to participate and let the people know that these kinds of issues exist and we are doing something about it.
Another point is that students have to do thorough research, empirical research and they have to push the institutions to have more journals for the publication of their articles. This year, for the first time, we are publishing the 5th year students' research articles in the form of a book. Also, they should engage in contemporary debatable issues, like divorce, marriage, living together, gay rights, all these kind of things, and they should not support this or that idea, or they should not oppose this or that idea, but they should be critical and show the society the right way. Of course, the students would have to do it at their own pace and level, but they definitely should engage and not remain passive. Involvement and engagement are key.
11. And lastly, the Lawyr.it customary question, if you had to give one piece of advice to law students, what would that be?
YS: Become an ethical lawyer and serve society.
By Prajwol Bickram Rana
This material was published in Lawyr.it Vol. 6, September 2020, available only online.