The Bar Council of India (BCI) managed to avoid a serious challenge to the revival of its LLB age bar on 20 February in the Supreme Court, when its counsel admitted that it does not apply to a petitioner who challenged it.
The petitioner, Subhash Vijayran, apprehended that the age bar might be applied retrospectively, thus affecting his admission to the Campus Law Centre, last year. Vijayran is 34 years old and appeared in person as petitioner.
As the BCI’s age limit circular was silent on whether it would affect those who had already got admission in the 2016-17 academic year, Vijayran was apprehensive that his admission might be revoked and approached the Supreme Court directly, as the other high court decisions that had quashed the BCI’s 2009 notification were creating confusion (see below).
He therefore filed a Right to Information (RTI) request with the BCI on 30 November 2016 to get clarity about whether the rule change is retrospective, but only received the unhelpful response that:
The Council has constituted a Committee to look after Clause 28. Already the Committee was called on 22nd October 2016. The Committee discussed the issue regarding age restriction in various aspects the final recommendation from the committee is awaiting (sic). Thereafter, the final report from the Committee, the outcome will be intimated to you. (sic)
So, Vijayran approached to Supreme Court and actually got an answer out of the BCI.
On 20 February, the BCI counsel, AK Prasad, cleared things up by telling a Supreme Court bench of justices Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Rohinton Nariman that the petitioner was in no way affected by clause 28 of Schedule III of the Legal Education Rules 2008 and his admission was not in question.
The bench, therefore, dismissed Vijayran’s petition challenging the notification as infructuous.
Vijayran commented: “As you can see that the BCI didn’t have a clear reply to my RTI. But they relented before the SC.
“And my admission got protected. That’s all that I required. So, I practically won my case.”
The BCI had first notified clause 28 of Schedule III of Legal Education Rules 2008, dealing with the age restriction for taking admission to LL.B course first in March 2009. The upper age limit for admission to the three-year LLB was fixed as 30 years (35 for candidates from scheduled caste or tribe categories) and for five-year LLBs at 20 years (or 22 for SC/ST).
In 2011, the Punjab and Haryana high court quashed the age-bar notification of 2009 as arbitrary and irrational, and the Bombay High Court declared clause 28 as non-existent, following the Punjab and Haryana high court’s decision.
Subsequently, the BCI withdrew clause 28 through a resolution in 2013, after an in-house review. This withdrawal was challenged before Madurai bench of the Madras High Court, which allowed the petition and held that the withdrawal of clause 28 by the BCI was illegal.
The BCI challenged the Madurai bench’s decision before the SC, which dismissed the SLP on 11 December 2015. However, the BCI in its circular of September 2016, claimed that due to the Supreme Court’s dismissal of its appeal, the rule under clause 28 of the Legal Education Rules 2008 had been restored.
The BCI, therefore, asked all the vice-chancellors and principals of law colleges to comply with clause 28. This circular was dated September 17, 2016.
Bigger questions raised by petition
But Vijayran’s petition reveals that it raises far more important issues concerning the age-bar notification of the BCI. Although Vijayran was satisfied that his rights have been protected by the BCI before the Supreme Court, the issues he raised are likely to be addressed when the Supreme Court hears similar petition filed by Rishabh Duggal and others tomorrow (28 February).
Vijayran has asked whether the Supreme Court’s in limini dismissal of the BCI’s SLP against the Madurai Bench’s decision would mean automatic revival of clause 28, which has been considered as quashed by three high courts, namely, Punjab and Haryana high court, Bombay high court, and the Allahabad high court.
Citing relevant case law, he has argued that Supreme Court’s non-reasoned dismissal of the BCI’s SLP cannot be interpreted as restoring clause 28, which has been already quashed by the Punjab and Haryana high court, and the quashing endorsed by Bombay and Allahabad high courts as well.
The Allahabad high court scrapped the age limit, imposed by the RMLNLU Lucknow for the 2015 Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). When RMLNLU went in appeal to the Supreme Court, it was unsuccessful, as a bench of justices Gopal Gowda and C Nagappan refused to interfere with the Allahabad high court’s decision in March 2015.
However, Vijayran had also asked whether the high courts’ decisions would have all-India application, or were valid only in their respective states.
All attention will therefore be on tomorrow’s hearing before justices SA Bobde, and L Nageswara Rao, who will hear the Duggal petition and the IA filed by Michael Sam, an aspiring CLAT applicant, who is an orphan, and backed by Shamnad Basheer, founder of Increasing Diversity by Increasing Access (IDIA), both challenging the revival of the age bar notification by the BCI.
If the outcome in Vijayran’s case is any indication, it appears that the BCI may like to avoid any serious challenge to its revival of age bar, by offering to reconsider it, as advised by the Bobde-Rao bench on 20 February.
[documentcloud http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3475569-BCI-equivocal-RTI-response-on-age-limit-of.html Read BCI non-response to RTI on age limit]