Exclusive: NLSIU Bangalore graduate and 2010 Rhodes scholar V Niranjan has bagged the prestigious Vinerian Scholarship after topping 140 students in Oxford University’s Bachelor of Civil Law (BCL) – a “simply outstanding” course, in his words.
Niranjan, who told Legally India he would now go on to pursue a career in litigation at the Madras High Court, scored a distinction in all four subjects (70 in restitution, 71 in personal taxation, 72 in conflict of laws and 73 in evidence). He was awarded the John Morris Prize for Best Performance in the Conflict of Laws, Rupert Cross Prize for Best Performance in Evidence and the Gray's Inn Tax Chambers Prize for Best Performance in Personal Taxation.
The Vinerian Scholarship is valued at £2,400 and is awarded at the discretion of the examiner.
The scholarship was named and instituted after legal writer and benefactor Charles Viner in 1755 and recipients include Oxford dons such as John Gardner, as well as legal luminaries such as appeals judge Lord Hoffmann and South African Supreme Court judge Edwin Cameron.
Niranjan along with Aditya Swarup of Nalsar Hyderabad had won the Rhodes scholarship in 2010 and Legally India caught up with him to quiz him on his experiences.
Legally India: What was the Rhodes experience like?
V Niranjan: It was fantastic. It adds a new dimension to studying at Oxford. I am extremely grateful to the Rhodes Trust.
Tell us more about your course selection?
Many students who intend to be barristers take all or some of these courses, although I don't know of too many Indian students with that combination. I took these courses for three reasons. The first is that I very much enjoy hard law and technical subjects in general (especially in English law) and private law in particular. These were natural picks from that point of view.
Secondly, these are widely regarded as among the very best courses in the BCL - and now I can see why. The faculty members teaching these are simply brilliant, and the subjects themselves very demanding - it is therefore a great experience. For example, I can't imagine a better place in the world to study Conflict of Laws and Restitution.
Thirdly, I always intended to litigate, and I plan to focus on commercial law and taxation, which again meant that these very useful subjects to study. What is remarkable about these courses is the depth expected of a student, and the very advanced level at which the Faculty teaches.
What was the level of difficulty compared to NLSIU?
The level expected of a candidate is naturally considerably higher. [see link] In short, good papers, especially in technical subjects like the ones I took, must demonstrate comprehensive knowledge of the case law and literature on the subject, and also develop arguments of one's own. But the courses are taught so exceptionally well by the Law Faculty that it is possible for a candidate to reach that level, and more importantly, to understand the law very well.
How about the quality of teaching compared to Indian undergrad courses?
Simply outstanding. I can't find words to describe how good the teaching is - most often, the faculty members are among the world's leading authorities on the subject, and know it like the back of their hand. The teaching consists principally of seminars, lectures and tutorials. The tutorial system not only makes it impossible for a student to hide, but provides an invaluable opportunity to submit and get feedback on written work, and explore particular issues in greater depth.
The seminars are exhilarating because of the cutting-edge legal issues one ends up discussing, as are the lectures. What is most rewarding is that at the end of the year, one has improved considerably as a lawyer, in important ways - reading cases more carefully and comprehensively, becoming more comfortable with technical private law, learning how to write better, speak better, etc.
And there is also a strong academic tradition beyond the formal seminars - for example, listening to Lord Hoffmann and Laurence Rabinowitz QC speak was an exciting and unforgettable experience (organised by the Oxford Obligations Discussion Group).
Any other Indian students on the BCL?
Quite a few. I can't remember exactly how many, but there must have been around 10.
You were quite the avid mooter in college - any opportunities for mooting at Oxford?
Quite a few. There was so much coursework to do that I had no time - all I could do was judge one moot.