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First legal challenge to bar exam: six Gujarat law grads seek exemption

Bar exam
Bar exam

Six law graduates have filed a writ petition challenging that the Bar Council of India's (BCI) proposed all India bar exam should not prevent them from practising in courts.

The IANS news agency reported that Urshit Oza and five other 2009 law graduates filed an application in Gujarat High Court against the Ministry of Law and Justice. [Update: Oza was a student of LA Shah Law College, further details set out below]

The petitioners' counsel Amit Panchal argued that while Oza and the others had graduated in the 2008-09 academic year, they had only "completed specialisation in 2009-10", according to IANS.

Panchal submitted that the petitioners should be licenced to practice without passing the bar exam because 2008-09 should be counted as the effective date of their graduation, for the purposes of taking the bar exam, rather than 2010. The article did not explain whether "specialisation" was referring to an LLM degree or other further education or qualification. [Update: see below for details; LA Shah College operates an advocacy specialisation program in the third LLB year]

The BCI passed a resolution on 10 April 2010 that amended Rules 9, 10 and 11 under section 49(1)(ah) of the 1961 Advocates Act, which governs conditions for the right to practice.

The BCI's resolution stated: "No advocate enrolled under section 24 of the Advocates Act, 1961 shall be entitled to practice under Chapter IV of the Advocates Act, 1961, unless such advocate successfully passes the All India Bar Examination conducted by the Bar Council of India.

"It is clarified that the Bar Examination shall be mandatory for all law students graduating from academic year 2009-2010 onwards and enrolled as advocates under Section 24 of the Advocates Act, 1961."

The Gujarat writ petition is listed for hearing today (16 June) at 2:30pm in the High Court of Gujarat, presided over by chief justice S J Mukhopadhaya and justice Akil Kureshi according to the High Court's causelist, although Legally India has not seen a copy of the application.

IANS wrote: "Panchal said that the BCI would conduct the examination Dec 5 and this would lead to loss of six months to them due to implementation of the new rules.

"He requested the court to direct the BCI to grant them the licence to practice, while the petitioners would appear in the exams later.

"The continuation of the licence would be subject to the result of the test, Panchal said."

In an unrelated development, the Karnataka State Bar Council contacted the BCI questioning how the state bar council would be able to police the ban on court practice without passing the exam.

"If we enrol them on the condition that they would practise only after passing the AIBE [all India bar exam], we don’t have the mechanism to check whether they have indeed refrained from practising or not. In case, they practise, we don’t know how to stop them," Karnataka Bar Council officials said, as reported national paper DNA India yesterday (15 June).

The bar exam is scheduled to be held on 5 December 2010 and will not affect seniority or basic work conducted by law firm lawyers, according to the BCI.

UPDATE: Oza was a student at LA Shah Law College in Ahmedabad, which is affiliated to the University of Gujarat.

The college operates a three year special LLB degree, where the third year consists of advocacy specialisation.

Photo by comedynose

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