SC declares law school admission exam unconstitutional

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 03 2019 04:04 PM

MANILA – The Supreme Court has stricken down a law admission exam which the Legal Education Board (LEB) prescribed as a qualification for admission to law schools.

In a decision dated September 10, the SC said that while the LEB may set an aptitude test as a minimum standard for legal education, it has no authority to impose the current Philippine Law School Admission Test (PhiLSAT), which, as a pass or fail exam, “dictates upon law schools who among the examinees are to be admitted to any law program.”

“When the PhiLSAT is used to exclude, qualify, and restrict admissions to law schools, as its present design mandates, the PhiLSAT goes beyond mere supervision and regulation, violates institutional academic freedom, becomes unreasonable and therefore, unconstitutional,” the court said.

The SC also struck down LEB’s memoranda dictating qualifications and classifications of faculty members, deans and deans of graduate schools of law in violation of institutional academic freedom of who may teach, as well as LEB’s policies on legal apprenticeship and legal internship programs in violation of institutional academic freedom of what to teach. 

The high court also said the following acts of the LEB steps into its exclusive powers:

- including continuing legal education as part of the supervision and control of the Executive

- granting the LEB the power to adopt a system of mandatory continuing legal education

- including increasing awareness among members of the legal profession of the needs of the poor, deprived and oppressed as part of the objective of legal education

- giving the LEB the power to establish law practice internship as a requirement for taking the Bar

But the Court affirmed the LEB’s jurisdiction over legal education in the country, including, the legality of its powers to set standards of accreditation for law schools, prescribe minimum requirements for admission to legal education and minimum qualifications of faculty members as long as these do not encroach upon the academic freedom of institutions of higher learning. 

Seven of the SC magistrates concurred in the decision penned by Justice Jose Reyes Jr, while 5 justices submitted separate concurring and dissenting opinions.

Two groups had filed separate petitions before the high court questioning the validity of Republic Act 7662, the law which created the LEB, and the LEB issuances imposing PhiLSAT.

Petitioners claimed PhiLSAT hinders aspiring law students from enrolling in law schools and encroaches upon the SC’s constitutional power to promulgate rules concerning admission to the practice of law by imposing an additional requirement -- a qualifying exam for law schools. 

They also argued PhiLSAT violates academic freedom as it interferes with the right of a law school to determine who to admit as students.

In March this year, the SC issued a temporary restraining order allowing aspiring law students who have not taken or who have not passed PhiLSAT to conditionally enroll in the law school of their own choice but still subject to taking and passing the next scheduled qualifying exam.