Legal education today encompasses much more than merely training students for the Bar. Indeed, the aim ought to be to create an effective social engineer who is socially sensitive and uses the law in myriad ways to help better society.
Under the current regulatory structure governing legal education in India, three bodies play a dominant role where Bar Council of India (BCI) playing the most prominent role, the University Grants Commission (UGC) and Universities themselves. Given that Bar Council is by far, the most prominent amongst all these regulatory bodies.
Legal Education and Powers of Bar Council of India
The Bar Council of India draws its regulatory powers from Advocates Act, 1961. This Act draws constitutional legitimacy from entries 77 and 78 of List 1 of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution.
Under Section 7(1)(h), the Bar Council of India, has been entrusted with the duty “to promote legal education and to lay down standards of such education in consultation of Universities in India imparting such education and State Bar Councils.” Furthermore, it is empowered to “ recognize Universities whose degree in law shall be qualified for enrollment as an advocate and for that purpose to visit and inspect Universities or cause the State Bar Councils to visit and inspect the Universities in accordance with such directions as it may give in this behalf.” The Act, also provides that a citizen of India will be entitled to be admitted as an advocate if he has obtained a degree from a University in India which is recognized by the BCI.
The BCI also has the powers to make rules prescribing qualifications for membership of a Bar Council and the disqualifications for such membership; the minimum qualifications required for admission to a course of degree in Law in any recognized University; and the standards of legal education to be observed by the Universities in India including the power to carry out inspections of Universities for that purpose.
The aforementioned provisions appear to vest the BCI with considerable power to influence the standard and content of legal education. The BCI has used these provisions to prescribe the content, syllabi and duration of law degree as a pre-condition to the conferment of recognition. By framing of series of rules and regulations, and resolutions—of which the most important is Draft Rules of Legal Education, 2019- the BCI has also imposed conditions relating to the establishment of law schools, buildings and appointment of faculty. This situation came about particularly because there was no other regulator charged with the responsibility of addressing these specific issues.
Legal Education and Powers of University Grants Commission
Legal Education is also governed, to some extent, by norms laid down by University Grants Commission, UGC, a body entrusted with the task of regulating higher education generally, in India. This body is governed by the University Grants Commission Act, 1956, [UGC Act], an enactment that derives its legitimacy from Entry 66 of List 1 of the Seventh Schedule of the Commission, which reads as: “Coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions.”
The preamble of the UGC Act, states that the Act is intended “to make provisions for the coordination and determination of standards in Universities.” Furthermore, Section 12, which deals with Functions of the Commission, states that “it shall be the general duty of the Commission to take, in consultation with the Universities or other body concerned, all such steps as it may think fit for the promotion and co-ordination of the University education and for the determination and maintenance of the standards of teaching, examination and research in Universities.” The Supreme Court has also emphasized the role of UGC in “shaping the academic life of the Country” and its “duty to maintain high standards in the Universities.” From the forgoing discussion it is clear that the UGC is the preeminent body charged with the responsibility of determining and maintaining standards of education in Universities.
Ambiguous Regulatory System: BCI v. UGC
However, the respective bounds of the UGC, the BCI and Universities themselves in terms of their role in regulating legal education have not been drawn out clearly leading the First National Consultation Conference of Heads of Legal Education Institutions (2002) to observe:
“The regulatory structure for legal education in India is currently seriously flawed and needs careful reconsideration. A typical law college has four masters at a minimum: the University to which it is affiliated; the State Government, the UGC and BCI. These four agencies have varying mandates, interests and constituencies and do not provide coherent guidance for the improvement of legal education in the Country.”
In the absence of specialized body that is explicitly entrusted with the task of regulating legal education, there is naturally a great deal of confusion about the scope of the BCI’s powers in this regard, and the validity of many if its actions.
Many have accused BCI of overstepping its mandate. The Report of the Working Group on Legal Education constituted by the National Knowledge Commission claims that the BCI’s Rules, Circulars and Regulations relating to aspects of legal education other than the entry into the Bar are beyond the scope of permissible delegated legislation and therefore invalid. The first National Consultation Conference of Heads of Legal Education Institutions (2002) likewise wanted the BCI to concern itself only with the minimum standards necessary for entry into the Bar. It desired the BCI to be “responsible only for regulating the entry into the legal profession and maintenance of professional standards rather than for legal education.
According to Section 53 of the Draft Rules of Legal Education, 2019, “Any resolution passed earlier by Bar Council of India / Legal Education Committee inconsistent with these rules shall not bind the Bar Council of India and all other bodies constituted in pursuance of the Advocates Act 1961, after these rules come into force. The decision taken by Legal Education Committee, Directorate, Board or any other authority under these Rules, shall be given effect only after getting the approval of Bar Council of India.”
Thus, it is clear BCI rules (Draft Rules of Legal Education, 2019) don’t have overriding effect over the Rules of UGC & other Universities’ rules. It has override effect only over previous rules of BCI in respect of legal Education.
Though, some rules made by Bar Council of India in respect of legal education, have overriding effect & supersede the Rules of UGC & other Universities’ rules. Some of the rules made by BCI under Draft Rules of Legal Education, 2019, which have such overriding effect are:
- Section 3(a), which states that, “The State Bar Council shall enrol only such applicants who have passed the degree in Law from a recognized University and an affiliated Centre of Legal Education approved by Bar Council of India.”
- Section 5 of this Act, which states that, there shall be two professional law courses leading to Bachelors’ Degree in Law as defined in clause-(vi) (a) & (b) of Rule-2: ………………….”
- Section 6 of this Act, which lays down the eligibility criteria for admission in law school, must be fulfilled, and no university can deny the said criteria and admit a student.
- Section 7 of this Act, which says that, no person, whatsoever shall enroll himself for two regular courses of study, is an absolute rule under this Act, and must be followed by all the Universities.
- Section 13 of this Act, which prohibits lateral entry or exit in the integrated degree course and also says that, no University shall split the integrated degree course into two degrees at any intermediary stage.
- Section 14 of this Act, is also very important for the purposes of imparting legal education, and it is also an absolute provision, which must be followed by all the universities. It lays down the minimum Qualification for applying for teaching assignment in a Recognized University or an approved Centre of Legal Education for a professional law degree program.
- Section 18 of this Act, lays down the conditions for a University to affiliate a Centre of Legal Education, which is very important provision and absolute in nature.
In the light of the above discussion it is clear that, the BCI don’t have absolute powers over imparting legal education in India. Though, this position is yet to be confirmed by the judiciary and until then, legal education in India is an uncertain venture.