NEW DELHI: Around 80 leading legal academics teaching across India and abroad have protested the lack of consultation by the Bar Council of India (BCI) in framing legal education norms.
The development assumes significance as the BCI and its state level representatives are agitating against the proposed Higher Education and Research Bill, alleging that it is aimed at usurping BCI's control over legal education.
In a petition to BCI, with copies marked to the law and HRD ministers, the academics highlighted that the regulatory body did not have "any meaningful consultation with law universities" - a point underscored by the fact that the Legal Education Committee of BCI has only two legal educationists on the panel out of 36. The petition noted that Section 7(1)(h) of the Advocates Act, 1961, required BCI "to lay down standards of... (legal) education in consultation with universities imparting such education".
The petition emphasized the need to curb this consultation deficit if quality of legal education in the country was to be enhanced and reminded BCI that the National Knowledge Commission had come to a similar conclusion.
Signed by various legal academics, the petition also took strong exception to the "derogatory remarks by the BCI about the competence of legal academics to the parliamentary committee reviewing the HER bill". BCI had derided the contribution of academics by claiming that lawyers knew the legal requirements expected from a future lawyer better (since they meet needy litigants in court every day) so they must be at the forefront of designing curricula in law schools granted recognition by BCI.
The academics disagreed with BCI's stand, saying due to "consultative deficit, law schools have been thrust with norms that are often alien to them and excessively burdensome to comply with". Arguing that the purpose of law schools was not just limited to churn out well qualified lawyers or future judges, the educationists strained to explain that it was their job to "also cultivate critical thinkers, social change makers and innovative leaders free to pursue an array of career options".
Pressing for greater consultation, the academics insisted norms around legal education "should be primarily determined by those that work as legal educationists in a full time capacity".
Apart from the HER bill, BCI and state bars have also questioned the Foreign Educational Institutions (Regulation of Entry and Operations) Bill, 2010, the National Accreditation Regulatory Authority for Higher Educational Institutions Act, 2010, the Prohibition of Unfair Practices in Higher Educational Institution Bill, 2010, the Educational Tribunals Bill, 2012 and the National Law Schools Bill, 2012.