Monday, September 26, 2022

Abolish three-year law degrees: Judge

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In an order, Justice N Kirubakaran of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court roots for five-year law courses and asks for scrapping of the three-year courses

By Venkatasubramanian

A survey has shown that India’s national law schools, which offer five-year courses, are marked by elitism and lack of diversity. However, in an order, Justice N Kirubakaran of the Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, found virtues in the National Law Universities (NLU), and rated their education several notches higher than the traditional three-year law degree course still offered by many universities and accessed by all. In an order passed by him in SM Anantha Murugan vs The Chairman, Bar Council of India, New Delhi, on October 6, Justice Kirubakaran has directed early abolition of three-year law degree courses. He has attributed the propensity among lawyers to indulge in criminal behavior to aged persons wanting to study and contribute to the practice of law through the three-year course.
Justice N Kirubakaran

However, a recent survey conducted by Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA), attempts to drive the policy in the area of “inclusive” legal education and “diversity” within law schools and the legal profession. This project was initiated by Shamnad Basheer, a product of the five-year law school, and conducted by him along with Geetanjali Sharma. The survey collected responses from students of nine top national law schools.

The IDIA project aims at reaching out to marginalized and under-represented groups, sensitizing them to law as a viable career option and helping interested students in acquiring admission to these law schools.

IDIA’s research has confirmed elitism and the lack of diversity in student populations in NLUs. In a blog written on August 7 this year, Basheer brought to light some disturbing findings. Hardly one percent of students who made it to the top five NLUs were from a vernacular medium school. IDIA surveyed 550 students, of whom 18 were from non-traditional backgrounds supported by it.
Among the findings, lack of English skills was cited as the most distinguishing factor between the privileged who get admission to the NLUs and those who didn’t. A total of 97 percent of the students surveyed went to higher secondary schools that had English as the medium of instruction, despite the fact that English was the mother tongue for only 3.5 percent of them.

In more than 70 percent of households of NLU students, both parents were conversant with English. Forty-two percent of students were found to have a friend or close relative in the legal profession, while under 10 percent had a parent who was a lawyer. More than 83 percent of students’ parents earned more than `3 lakh per year and 53 percent earned above `7 lakh per year, yet nearly 80 percent of students took expensive coaching, which can cost
`1 lakh or more to crack the highly competitive Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Only 1.6 percent of students came from Muslim families, despite Muslims making up 12 percent of India’s population.

The survey showed that these types of minority issues could extend to bullying and ragging, as 7.3 percent of respondents reported that they had faced harassment, ethnic or racial abuse because of their background, including their lack of English conversational skills or dressing sense, and 12.4 percent reported difficulty fitting into law schools because of their background.

Three-year law courses have been able to attract students from various disciplines, whereas five-year courses attract only those fresh from schools without a basic degree in any of the disciplines. Those with degrees in other disciplines have been found to be eclectic in their approach to understanding and practicing law and confront legal problems with a fresh perspective, which is not the case with the five-year law students.
With their basic degrees in other disciplines, those who are the products of three-year law courses have been found to bring by instinct and training, an inter-disciplinary approach to the practice of law, which would otherwise be lost if it is confined to mere literal interpretation of the legal provisions.

It is not as if the five-year courses are without any merit. Thanks to NLUs, many bright law graduates have joined the legal profession, thus contributing to its dynamism. The profession stands to benefit when both the three-year and five-year courses cater to the educational needs of different sections of society.

However, Justice Kirubakaran order said: “It is only in the three-year course, criminals join and not in the five-year course as age factor is a problem. Therefore, three year course has to be scrapped in the interest of the judicial system,” he concludes.

Justice Kirubakaran also says: “If a criminal gets an avatar of an advocate by purchasing a law degree, if any action is taken against him, he would play the advocate card and the advocate community would resort to boycott of courts paralyzing the courts’ functioning without even verifying as to whether action has been taken against regular practitioner or a criminal turned lawyer.
““Label of advocate makes the criminal to have acquaintance with police, threaten police and to conduct katta panchayat without any problems and avoid police action, including filing of complaints against them,” he further says.

The reason for the entry of criminals into the legal profession has to be squarely attributed to alleged Bar leaders and many Bar Council members and their boycott of courts, he says.

According to him, the word “a person” used in Section 24 of the Advocates Act means a person with honesty, moral values, ethics, integrity and without a criminal background and that person alone is qualified to be admitted as an advocate on a state roll.

The State Bar Council is duty bound to verify the nature of the crimes alleged and also verify the antecedent of the candidate seeking enrolment in a meticulous manner so as to deny entry pass to such criminal elements into the legal profession, he holds.
If a person accused of criminal offences is allowed to enroll, he would stand as an accused in one case and in some other cases, he would be representing as an advocate; such an incongruous situation should be avoided, he held.

Parliament should amend the Advocates Act to incorporate provisions for disqualifying persons accused of offences, except bailable offences attracting up to three years imprisonment, and compoundable offences (including matrimonial, family and civil dispute offences).

They should be disqualified either from getting into law colleges or entering into the profession and till the amendment is brought in, there shall be a direction to the Bar Council of India (BCI) and bar councils to follow this mandate, he said.

Justice Kirubakaran has directed the BCI and the bar councils not to enrol any candidate accused or convicted of such offences, and those dismissed or removed from any service or who had left service pursuant to any departmental action/domestic proceedings.

Bar councils should grant conditional/provisional enrolment to law graduates, who have criminal cases involving bailable offences attracting punishment up to three years and compoundable offences, open a separate file for this purpose, and monitor the cases by obtaining information about the outcome.

If convicted subsequently in such offences, the Bar Council should issue show cause notice to revoke provisional enrolment of such advocates, he has held.

Justice Kirubakaran has observed that the number of advocates should be directly proportionate to the number of cases and conseque-ntly, the number of colleges.

In the US, there is one lawyer for every 300 people or approximately 0.36 percent of the total population. According to a story published by a website in 2013, the national average in India is 886 non-lawyers per lawyer.

This suggests that we are still a less litigious society, as compared to the US, and there is scope for increasing the proportion of lawyers to non-lawyer population if only to create greater awareness of the rights of the marginalized and the under-privileged.
Justice Kirubakaran has directed that because the Bar Council has failed in its duty, its functions must be entrusted to an expert body of legal luminaries, academicians, etc.

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