The Bar Council of India files an affidavit in the Supreme Court The top court is likely to take up the matter on April 19 An affidavit has been filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) in the Supreme Court on a range of proposed reforms in the country's legal education system. If it meets the approval, senior lawyers may soon have to give space to at least five young lawyers in...
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The Bar Council of India files an affidavit in the Supreme Court
The top court is likely to take up the matter on April 19
An affidavit has been filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) in the Supreme Court on a range of proposed reforms in the country's legal education system. If it meets the approval, senior lawyers may soon have to give space to at least five young lawyers in their chambers.
Based on the scores obtained by the young lawyers in an online legal aptitude test, they could be placed under lawyers designated as senior advocates or those with 25 years of standing at the Bar.
The BCI was responding to the questions when the bench implored the regulatory body to bring in a slew of reforms. These pertained to the standards being followed by the law colleges and the placement of young law graduates. Another significant change expected was of introducing a state-level entrance test for admission to law colleges. The universities and colleges conduct their exams separately, as of now.
Advocate Durga Dutt on behalf of BCI filed the affidavit before a bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul.
It stated, "The appellant is constituting a high-powered committee to check the legal and constitutional validity of compulsory chamber placement with senior advocates or advocates having years of standing at the Bar for young law graduates or to a fair system for juniors to find placement in chambers. Upon reaching the conclusion on how to implement this issue, each such advocate shall be requested to engage at least five such juniors in their chambers."
It added that BCI was also planning to frame a rule wherein fresh law graduates would undertake online objective tests and the results would be valid for a period of six months.
The affidavit further said, "On the basis of the results of these tests, meritorious junior law graduates, who have freshly obtained enrolment, shall get placement under senior advocates or advocates having 25 years of standing at the Bar. Other junior advocates shall also get placement under advocates having 15 to 20 years of experience. The BCI shall request all such advocates throughout the length and breadth of the country to co-operate and contribute in this regard."
Assisted by senior counsel and amicus curiae KV Viswanathan, the bench was emphatic that the standards of legal education would not improve until BCI tightened the yardsticks in examinations. In order to ascertain a high standard of education, it was imperative to maintain stringent control at the entry level and ensure constant monitoring.
In November 2020, the Gujarat High Court allowed a woman to enroll as an advocate without quitting her job. BCI had then appealed and argued that the decision would open the floodgates for such requests. The rules specifically stated that while being employed in another job, no one could enroll as an advocate.
The BCI stated that the suggestion from the court on allowing those employed in some other professions to sit for the Bar exam was under deliberation of a high-level committee comprising former judges and senior lawyers of the Supreme court and high courts.
As for evolving a fair system for juniors to find placement in chambers, the affidavit underlined that a panel had been constituted to scrutinize the possibility and make it obligatory for senior lawyers to accommodate fresh law graduates.
The BCI also pointed out the admission criteria to law colleges. It said that while the universities conducted the entrance exams, it would be better if the legal education committee of the BCI and the advisory board introduced a state-level entrance test for admission to law colleges.
(The advisory board comprises the Chief Justice of India and nine other judges of the Supreme Court. It also includes the Union Law Minister, vice-chancellors of various universities, senior lawyers, academicians, social activists, and Members of Parliament.
The BCI also addressed the concern of the court on the mushrooming of law colleges and the low standard of education. It stated that it had earmarked about 500 sub-standard institutions throughout the country.
The affidavit read, "A team led by some former judges, senior advocates and academicians plan to conduct surprise visits of such institutions. If any institution is found to be below standard, having neither sufficient faculties, nor infrastructure, the legal education committee shall take immediate steps to close such institutions."
It also emphasized that since only the concerned universities and state governments could set up or close down the law colleges, the regulatory body would have the right to withdraw the approval granted for running the courses of legal education.
The BCI complained, "Some government universities have been recklessly granting affiliation to law colleges. Often state governments are granting No Objection Certificates without examining/verifying the infrastructure. These are hurdles in improving the standard of legal education and ultimately affect the standard of the profession."
To discourage the mushrooming of law colleges, BCI clarified that it had imposed a three-year moratorium on opening new law colleges in August 2019. However, the Punjab and Haryana High Court had held that it violated the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade, or business under the Constitution of India. It led to BCI clarifying the moratorium did not exist.
According to the BCI statistics, there were around 1,500 law colleges across the country, including 75 percent private colleges. The data showed that India had 1.7 million registered lawyers. Also, annually, about 80,000 to 100,000 new advocates get enrolled.