The Department of Law, University of Ceylon, was established in 1947 primarily because of dissatisfaction with the quality of legal education available at the time. The original intention was that all aspiring lawyers should first obtain a law degree and thereafter proceed to the Ceylon Law College for practical training. This was subsequently rejected. Professor T Nadaraja (Foundation Professor of Law and Dean of the Faculty from 1948 – 1983) has described the events leading up to the establishment of the Faculty of Law as follows:
The next stage in the evolution of legal education in Ceylon was initiated in 1923 by Chief Justice Sir Anton Bertram, who pointed out grave defects in the education provided at the Ceylon Law College. He appears to have realised the limitations of the largely vocational training given by part-time teachers at the College and to have had in mind the broader objectives which university teachers are expected to follow and the wider horizons they can open up to students in the environment of a university. His suggestion, which the Council for Legal Education accepted in 1924 was that the major part of the instruction of law students be transferred to a Faculty of Law at the proposed University of Ceylon, leaving the Law College to provide a postgraduate course of instruction in what were termed practical subjects, like Procedure, Evidence and Conveyancing. But eleven years later the Council went back on its earlier decision and decided that, whether the proposed Faculty of Law came into existence or not the Law College should continue to provide a complete course of study and training for prospective lawyers.[Professor T Nadaraja, “Convocation Address”, University of Colombo, 1984]
Thus, while the Law College continued to provide access to the profession, the Faculty was able to provide students selected through the university admissions process with a different orientation. This was consistent with the vision of Chief Justice Bertram and the broader outlook that university education must necessarily contain. There are, therefore, two streams through which one can enter the profession. The stream which flows from the university system prepares students differently, with an emphasis on an analytical, jurisprudential perspective. It has made and continues to make a unique and indispensable contribution to the Sri Lankan legal community, legal scholarship and other areas of public life.
The philosophy of legal education at the Faculty of Law, therefore, has been and is, different to that of the Law College. The philosophy is consistent with trends in modern legal education throughout the world. As Professor Nadaraja has observed:
“Modern legal education, therefore, concentrates on providing the background and the method of approach rather than on merely imparting information, believing that even for the student who is going to practise it is more important to acquire the habit of mind which can get to the bottom of an unfamiliar subject than to acquire a merely factual knowledge of details… There will, of course, be many things that a young graduate just out of law school which has fulfilled its proper functions will still have to learn, and too often critics of the law schools unfairly judge him by the tests that should be applied only to the experienced practitioner. But the law schools, as we have already pointed out, have to keep first things first and remember that, in the limited period during which they have the opportunity of moulding young minds, their object should be not to produce a short-term professional competence but to inculcate a scientific legal training which must serve as a basis for a whole lifetime in a profession calling for the most varied skills”. [T Nadaraja, Objectives in Legal Education, 1956 University of Colombo Review (UCR).]