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HRD concedes legal education regulation to BCI

LI and Mint, together every fortnight
LI and Mint, together every fortnight
Mint exclusive: The Bar Council of India has retained the power to recognize law schools across India, as it emerged from a meeting with the ministry of human resource development (HRD) on Tuesday.

The government tried to replace BCI with a full-time panel of experts and academicians under the National Council for Higher Education and Research Bill 2011—its proposed law to oversee legal education. Through this law, the ministry wanted to minimise BCI’s role in regulating legal education.

After sparring for almost a year-and-a-half, both the parties on Tuesday arrived at a compromise. BCI will continue to control legal education that leads to professional practice, and the government will have control over diplomas and degrees such as Bachelor of Academic Laws that are not recognized by BCI and do not allow a graduate to practice.

“Bar Council of India shall have the powers to lay down minimum standards for grant of degree leading to professional practice,” the HRD ministry said in a statement.

BCI shall be the “designate accredited agency with respect to evaluation of minimum standards” and will have the “power to determine fees to be charged from institutions” for accreditation, it added. Regulation of legal education is a key stream of revenue for BCI. BCI, however, will have to follow the norms and process of accreditation set by the government or a statutory authority. The government has already moved a Bill to make accreditation mandatory for all educational institutes. HRD ministry officials say this will lead to creating a pool of legal academicians, researchers and persons with legal knowledge to work for industry.

“One can do law and management and other such industry-required courses. Here, the government will frame and regulate the course,” said a ministry spokesperson.

Rakesh Tiku, a former chairman of the Delhi Bar Council, said he was pleased with the decision and that BCI and the 17 state bar councils believed legal education should not be taken away from their purview. On the government’s intention to hand over legal education to academics under a state set up, he said: “This is again a thought perception. If a subject is technical, will you take a bureaucrat? Will they take a history professor? Obviously, they will take a lawyer.”

Tiku said BCI could also rope in legal academics: “We might invite some academics. Basically, any person who has no understanding of this field would not be able to properly frame the syllabus. Obviously, there would be a gap between a professional and an outsider.”

But Tiku admitted BCI and state bar councils did have trouble regulating the quality of legal education.

“The fault lies with a large number of law colleges mushrooming all over India. There is no effective method to regulate the large numbers of law schools,” he said. India has at least 900 recognized law schools and colleges.

Background:

In January the BCI passed a resolution that the HRD ministry was “stealthily trying to invite foreign firms” by wanting to control legal education, vowing to fight “tooth and nail” the “draconian and highly condemnable proposals”.

Professor Madhava Menon, founder of NLSIU Bangalore, sided with the BCI in September 2009 shortly after the BCI first expressed its unhappiness with its disenfranchisement.

This article first appeared in Mint. Legally India has an exclusive content partnership with Mint, which publishes a legal page every second Friday.

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