The Changes India’s Legal Education Needs Right Now

Many members of the Constituent Assembly were from the field of law, which was looked at as a bad thing by some since representation from others sections of society was needed to give a balanced view to the framing of the Constitution. The end result was a Constitution guaranteeing equality, freedom and right against exploitation, among other things. Although not a perfect Constitution, with a lack of right to privacy, which could have shortened the Aadhaar Supreme Court case to a few seconds and no codification of parliamentary privileges to prevent abuse by the legislators, but on the whole, a superbly written Constitution which has imbibed the best parts from a lot of other constitutions around the world, starting with that of the United States of America.

Legal education to nurture the new generation of lawyers must be in accordance with today’s societal needs and in this hyper-competitive global environment, must also be of top quality. Unfortunately, the present state of legal education in India is not.

Our law schools are only affiliated with the Bar Council of India (BCI) which carries out regular inspections. However, unfortunately, there is no extra credit given to specific law schools. No accreditation system is given to law schools around the country. This was recommended by the 16th Law Commission as well but has not been implemented as of now. An accreditation system works to generate instant competition and makes visible the recognition of the best law schools. This is needed. The Advocate Act of 1961 would need to be amended so that the BCI is granted the power of accreditation.

A question also arises out of uniformity. In our legal education system, there exist 3-year undergraduate degrees which run with the 5-year undergraduate degrees. In 2015, the Madras High Court recommended abolishing the 3-year LLB degree. The Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in their 86th report concurred with this and mentioned the inclusion of the part-time law degree and law correspondence degrees on the chopping block. A basic sense of uniformity and standardisation is an obvious addition to our legal education as discrepancies in the type of education creates a wider gap than necessary for lawyers.

Inside the legal education framework, the most important human resource are our heroic teachers. Here, the deficiency is that full-time law teachers who teach for more than three hours are not allowed to practise law. They are also not allowed to take the higher judicial services exam. This makes the teaching too abstract and theoretical. The way to make our law professors and teachers be able to practise law and give exams is to amend the Advocate Act, 1961.

Much like the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) and the Medical Council of India (MCI) regulate their respective fields and are established statutory bodies, in the Standing Committee report, a separate body altogether for legal education was suggested. Even a name was proposed – Indian Council of Legal Research (ICLR). The problem with the current setup is that the BCI is restricted to just the LLB undergraduate degree and the University Grants Commission (UGC) regulates the higher legal education as well as the overall quality of legal education in the whole country, in addition to all other educational fields such as political science and medicine.

Clearly, the BCI should stick to monitoring the quality of undergraduate education as an LLB is mandatory to enrol in the bar, whilst, the UGC is too broad-based and handles too much in terms of educational fields already. It should make the planning of courses for higher education in law as well as research in the field of law to the universities themselves. It should stick to providing recognition to legal institutes and regulating only the quality of legal education. The overall regulation, perhaps, requires a statutory body under the UGC Act, 1956.

Modernisation is a constant need. For law, doubly so. The Committee strongly recommended that arbitration, conciliation, mediation, etc. should be given special focus in legal education as well as looked at to be incorporated in schools. It is clear that in all aspects of life, a common citizen has some degree of interaction with the law and compliance costs for businesses as well as recognising the laws of a nation is important to live.

Even in the much-coveted national law universities, a majority of them are established by the states who have stopped funding them and since the Centre cannot fund them, they have to resort to funding themselves by raising student fees. The committee suggested that the UGC needs to frame rules under Section 25 to provide financial support. This is important as the national law universities were also recommended to be given ‘national eminence’ like the AIIMs and the IITs. You cannot have underfunded national universities. The UGC must immediately pick up the burden that the states have left and urge them to pick it up themselves. The need for a standard bearer for Indian law, like the IITs for engineering is great for optics as well as a benchmark to aspire to. Right now, the 17 NLUs are the top-tier in law. They need to be given eminent status and lessen the burden on students by getting funding from the Centre. To go further, they also need to start granting the equivalent of a Juris Doctorate (JD). Perhaps scrapping the post-graduate degree and replacing it with a JD which also includes the comprehensive nature of a JD would go a long way in doing that.

International law, which is largely neglected by our government itself is necessary as a subject and needs to be emphasised since treaty obligations affect every citizen and get incorporated into law if there is an absence of domestic legislation.

Sidenote – The Committee noted that The Bar Council of India (BCI) had overstepped its legislative competence under the Advocate Act 1961 through subordinate legislation. Under its Resolutions, Rules and Regulations, the BCI has taken over all aspects of legal education which was not the intention of the Advocate Act. It also noted that the Legal Education Committee (LEC) of Bar Council of India had more members than mandated under Section 10(2)(b) of the Advocate Act, 1961. Even the 5 lakh fee for affiliation paid to the BCI by law colleges is very high.

Our Constitution was made largely by lawyers. The system we have now is perhaps not the best to bring out another generation of extremely distinguished lawyers who can create something of that level. Modern machines are not what is needed and the booming of legal institutions must be looked at cautiously as overgrowth might mean a downgrade in quality. Our legal education must be setup to support the huge wave of students coming into the field of law and must change immediately to be the best platform for those students.


Image source: ELSA International/ Flickr
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