The BarHacker team critiques the first All India Bar Exam, provides model answers with explanations on where to find them, examines whether it is possible to score perfect marks and suggests a way forward for the next exam.
Apart from the batch of 2010 law graduates who took the first ever All India Bar Exam, a lot of lawyers and law students will be interested in knowing what minimum standard the BCI is actually setting through the Bar Exam.
The entire justification of putting so many students through the exam is to improve the quality of lawyers, therefore if the question paper does not test a minimum acceptable level of knowledge and skill, it will be quite futile to make so many students pay a substantial amount and have them go through the toils of an exam. Also, would-be lawyers who are yet to write the exam may also be interested in knowing what sort of paper they should expect.
Therefore we thought it will be a good idea to analyze the first ever AIBE paper. Please share your opinion about the paper in the comments and whether this paper will really set an acceptable minimum standard for a lawyer newly qualified to practice in Indian courts.
The hard stats
The paper had 100 questions in total, with a substantial portion of the questions being application-based. It was an open book exam, and most questions were clearly developed from the BCI material that everyone who registers for the Bar Exam is supplied with. Carrying those two modules would have been sufficient for all purposes, unless you wanted to save time as far as possible, in which case carrying some major acts like the CPC or CrPC would have helped. Three-and-a-half-hours was a lot more time than most people needed to solve the paper.
Even for a person who had very minimal preparation, in theory it was possible to look up every question for the correct answer. In many, many questions even looking at any book was unnecessary as one could reach the correct answer simply by eliminating all the impossible answers. Some application-based questions were totally redundant, and at best what they tested was reading comprehension.
The standard of questions was not uniform throughout the paper. While some questions were good, a surprising number of questions did not deserve to be in a paper to be written by law graduates.
Some ostensibly application-based questions did not require any sort of application skill whatsoever. Consider Q. no. 95, from Part II, in which all questions were supposed to be application-based.
Which Article of the Constitution of India has been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include the right to a wholesome environment?
Principle: Enjoyment of life, including the right to live with human dignity encompasses within its ambit the protection and preservation of the environment, ecological balance free from pollution of air and water, and sanitation, without which life can not be enjoyed.
A. Article 19(1)(a)
B. Article 19(1)(g)
C. Article 246 read with Schedule VII
D. Article 14
E. Article 21
Does solving this question require application of the principle given? Rather than providing any legal rule, the principle gives a hint that the relevant Article will talk about Right to Life. I am afraid this is not really an application-based question apart from the fact that even those who have read a class IX civics book will be able to answer this question.
Some of the questions did not require any knowledge of law or preparation to solve, because the wrong options were totally absurd and one did not have to be a lawyer to eliminate the obviously wrong options. Consider this question from property law section (Question no. 73):
What is a contractual obligation of the parties in relation to transfer of an immovable property commonly referred to as?
A. A covenant
B. A condition
C. A consideration
D. A termination
E. A cancellation
Look at another such question:
A and B are married. A wants to have children. B deliberately and consistently refuses to fulfill this wish. In light of the principles set out below, which is the most accurate option?
Principle: Cruelty is a ground for divorce under Hindu Law. To amount to cruelty, the acts must be of a more serious nature than mere wear and tear of married life.
A. A can be granted divorce on grounds of cruelty.
B. B can be granted divorce on grounds of cruelty as A's request is unusual.
C. A can not be granted divorce on grounds of cruelty as his request is unusual.
D. B can be granted divorce on grounds of cruelty as A's request is cruel.
E. Since the marriage has been consummated no divorce is possible under Hindu law.
In some questions one just had to identify the option which merely rephrased or restated the principle in its entirety. See question no. 79:
Rule 5 of a delegated legislation claims to derive is authority from section 57 of the delegating Act. However, the Act only has 55 sections. Which of the following statements is the most accurate application of the principle set out below?
Principle: If a Rule is wrongly stated to be framed under a particular provition of a statute but otherwise falls within the competence of the rule making authority, wrong labelling will not render the Rule ultra vires. [Emphasis added]
A. The Rule would be invalid as it is wrongly stated to be framed under a particular provision of the Act.
B. The Rule will not be invalid as it is wrongly stated to be framed under a particular provision of the act.
C. The Rule would not be invalid even if it is wrongly stated to be framed under a particular provision of the act.
D. The Rule would not be invalid even if it is wrongly stated to be framed under a particular provision of the Act, provided that the Rule otherwise falls within the competence of the rule-making authority. [Emphasis added]
E. The Rule would be invalid if it is wrongly stated to be framed under a particular provision of the Act, even if the rule otherwise falls within the competence of the rule making authority.
Please note how Option D is just a rephrased and rearranged version of the principle.
There were more allegedly application-based questions that just required one to merely identify the option that just reiterates the principle. For instance, check out Question no. 88.
Company A engages the services of Contractor B to supply it some labourers on contract basis. The appropriate Government subsequently abolishes contract labour in the industry that Company A is engaged in. In light of the principle below, which of the following options is the most accurate?
Principle: When the appropriate Government issues a notification under Section 10 of the Contract Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1970 abolishing contract labour, the employees of the contractor will not automatically be absorbed into the employment of the the principal employer if the contract was genuine. [emphasis added] If, however, the contract was not genuine, but a mere camouflage, the so-called contract labourers would be deemed to be employees of the principal employer.
A. if the contract between A and B is genuine, then the labourers would be deemed to be employees of A.
B. If the contract between A and B is genuine, then the labourers would be retrenched.
C. If the contract between A and B is not genuine, then the labourers will be deemed to be employees of A.
D. If the contract between A and B is not genuine, then the labourers will be deemed to be employees of B.
E. If the contract between A and B is not genuine, then the labourers will be retrenched.
Answering this question may require some basic reading comprehension skill and cognitive ability, but hardly any lawyerly skill of applying legal rules!
Similarly, take a look at Question no. 82:
A certain locality lack proper drainage system for discharge of water, as a result of which, dirty water from the houses and rainwater was accumulating in its lakes. Growth of moss and insects in the area increased the possibility of an epidemic. In light of the principle below, the remedies are available to the residents?
Principle: Aa. 32 and 226 of the Constitution empower the Supreme Court as well as high courts to issue writs, directions, or orders.
A. Only a criminal case may be filed against the municipal authorities. [Seriously. This was an option!]
B. Only a civil suit may be filed against the municipal authorities.
C. Only a tortious action may be filed against the municipal authorities.
D. The residents may seek redress in either the High Court or the Supreme Court under the writ jurisdiction of those courts.
E. The residents have no remedy.
What was the required level of corporate law knowledge to solve this paper? Take a look at Question no 81:
A and B are the shareholders of company C, a private limited company. Which of the following statements is the most accurate application of the principle set out below?
Principle: A company has a separate and distinct legal identity from the members who composed it.
A. Either A or B can be sued for the acts of Company C.
B. Only A can be ordinarily sued for the acts of Company C.
C. Only B can be ordinarily sued for the acts of Company C.
D. B can not be ordinarily sued for the acts of Company C.
E. Both A and B must be sued together for the acts of Company C.
Can a person who did not learn much law in college, and came to write the exam armed with the BCI material pass the paper without any preparation?
While some of the questions were of an absurd standard, and in our opinion do not really serve to gauge any level of competence in a lawyer ready to practice in the courts, there were many questions that were of much better standard. Please do not reach the conclusion that I am suggesting that questions should be difficult. It is just that some of the questions, like the ones quoted above, serve no purpose in an exam, and certainly does not test any sort of lawyering skill or knowledge, perhaps except for reading comprehension.
While a majority of the questions were easy and some of the absurdly easy for the purpose of scoring marks, there were some difficult questions as well. In fact, even a well-prepared student would find one or two questions in every ten to be tricky or difficult. The correct strategy for any student therefore would have been to identify 40-50 easiest questions (of which there were plenty) first and answer them quickly. That would have safeguarded the object of passing the exam, following which one could try and maximize the score by attempting the rest.
A majority of questions would have required one to consult the BCI material or some book. Some prior understanding of legal concepts would have certainly been a great help. However, if your law is weak (if not in all subjects, then at least in the majority of them) and you still went without any preparation and thought that you could look up all the answers as it was an open book exam, you probably had a tough time. Flipping through the study material for every question can be a very exhausting exercise. It made sense to be familiar with the material, and to know the basic concepts.
Question paper pattern
The pattern of the question paper was exactly as the Bar Council had stated, and it was very similar to the Model Test Paper released by the BCI. In Part I, questions pertaining to each Category A subject were separately indicated and were all mentioned together. However, within the same Category A subject, the questions were well shuffled. So, if you had no idea, you would quickly get tired flipping pages back and forth for each question, and would have slowed down.
Part II was slightly less easy as most students have told us. In the mock, these were all problem based questions and subject headings were not mentioned. Also, questions from the same subject were not bundled together and were scattered throughout Part II. Hence, identification of the correct subject would have proved to be a useful skill, as that could make looking for answers in the reading material much easier and save you valuable time.
Distribution of questions in Part II
Labour law, family law and company law were the most heavily tested upon, with 4 questions each, and administrative law and environmental law featured 3 questions each.
There was one question each on Torts and Public International Law, and two on taxation.
Tough nut to crack, or a cakewalk?
Passing the exam, however, should have been easy, unless you wasted time looking for a few answers in the material for too long. One just had to read all the questions calmly and not get rattled by difficult or unfamiliar questions.
In fact, unless one was extremely well prepared, about thirty to forty questions would have required one to refer to the preparatory material, just to confirm and cross check. By and large, individual strengths and weaknesses would have determined which subjects appeared to be tougher than others.
In Part II, the tax questions were pretty difficult and required a very deep understanding of the concepts, particularly the question on whether a penalty and interest on late payment on tax could be allowed as a deduction. Nevertheless, like most other questions, both were simply lifted word for word from illustrations in Book 2 of the Preparatory Material. Irrespective of whether one had a clear notion of the concept or not it was possible to answer a lot of the difficult questions, even without understanding them, by a blind reference to the material.
Was the first All India Bar Exam a walk in the park for any serious law student? Is scoring hundred out of hundred easy in this paper? Certainly not. There are anywhere between ten to twenty tricky questions at least, which anyone can get wrong.
This is the first time an entrance exam was held for lawyers, in the face of huge opposition by students and multiple writs against it. A question paper where passing was challenging could have fuelled student opposition further.
Still while keeping the paper easy, the standard of some of the questions could have been improved. However in subsequent years, as more and more students get attuned to the idea of the Bar Exam, we'd expect that the minimum standard set by BCI for graduates wanting to practice law will improve.
The author is team BarHacker, which built the first online All India Bar Exam preparation course at www.barhacker.in