Parliamentary committee calls for redefining role of BCI in legal education in India

The Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee On Personnel, Public Grievances, Law And Justice says that the Bar Council of India lacks the capacity to handle higher legal education by itself.

A parliamentary committee has opined that there is no sense in the Bar Council of India (BCI) having regulatory power over the entire spectrum of legal education and that its powers must be limited to the extent of acquiring basic eligibility for practising at the Bar.

These observations have been made by the Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee On Personnel, Public Grievances, Law And Justice, in its report, titled Strengthening Legal Education in View of Emerging Challenges Before The Legal Profession.

Today, law graduates pursue a range of careers beyond the courtroom practice. So, the legal curriculum in educational institutions needs to be designed in a manner that enables the development of skills required for pursuing diverse legal professions and not just courtroom practice.

Thus, there is no sense in the BCI having regulatory powers over the entire spectrum of legal education. Further, the BCI has neither the power nor the expertise to meet the challenges of an ever-changing globalised world.

This view has also been expounded by the National Knowledge Commission. Also, there is near unanimity amongst all expert witnesses who appeared before the committee on this particular issue,” the committee states.

It opines that other regulatory functions related to higher education in law, i.e., education at the post-graduation and above level, which are presently being performed by the BCI, and which are not related directly to practice at the Bar, should be entrusted to an independent authority, the National Council for Legal Education and Research to be established under the proposed Higher Education Commission of India.

The committee also takes note of the views of the many stakeholders who raised serious concerns about how the BCI has used the power to inspect law colleges and grant them recognition which has led to a reckless proliferation of substandard law colleges in the country.

The committee thus opined that while granting recognition to new colleges due consideration should be given to quality over quantity.

It is imperative for the BCI to take urgent and effective measures to curb the proliferation of substandard law colleges in India and to ensure the quality and excellence of legal education and profession in the country,” the committee recommends.

Notably, last year, Kerala High Court judge Justice A. Muhamed Mustaque in one of his speeches had said that the greatest tragedy in legal education was that members of the Bar Council dictate legal education.

He stated that Bar councils are mostly made up of litigating lawyers whose knowledge is mostly limited to the litigation side of the law.

This had invited a sharp reaction from the BCI, which said that Justice Mustaque was misled by persons with vested interests and he did not have the liberty to make comments against any organisation without proper knowledge of the subject matter in question.

It remains to be seen whether the BCI would also be reacting to the observations made by the parliamentary committee against its regulating powers over the entire spectrum of legal education.

The parliamentary committee has asked the BCI to oversee the implementation of reservations in institutions of legal education, including National Law Universities, colleges and other law institutions and consider withdrawing their recognition if they fail to do so.

It also takes note of the different curricula and syllabi prescribed by different affiliated universities.

This, the committee states, creates unevenness among law students who pass out from different colleges and universities.

It has recommended that the role of the BCI should be redefined to include setting down a uniform curriculum for undergraduate courses in all law colleges and universities; but for post-graduation and above, a uniform curriculum should be laid down by an independent authority.

In addition to this, the committee recommends that during every academic year, undergraduate law students should mandatorily go for a two-month apprenticeship for getting enrolled as advocates.

In this regard, the committee has stated that the Advocates Act, 1961 may be revisited in consultation with universities, and senior members of the Bar and Bench.

The committee also recommends that law students who undergo internships with seniors should be paid stipends to encourage them and also to take care of their logistic expenses during the internship.

The committee also recommends that a joint committee of senior academicians and practitioners at the Bar and the Bench should be constituted to review the curriculum periodically.

By implementing these changes, law graduates will be better equipped to tackle the legal challenges of the 21st century, serve their clients effectively and contribute to the development of the legal profession,” the committee states.

The committee has also noted that it is important that law schools address the impact of technology on the legal profession more broadly, which includes exploring the legal and ethical implications of emerging technologies, such as blockchain and smart contracts, and understanding how these technologies are changing the way legal services are provided.

The committee thus recommends that law graduates must be made more conversant with emerging technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), blockchain and other information technology-related tools which, in the years ahead, will certainly have a bearing on how the law is practised.