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BCI challenged for vagueness, fees ‘in nature of punishment’ for foreign LLB degree holders by Mumbai Uni graduate

The BCI’s drafting and discretion leads to another litigation on its pile of challenges

Much tougher than MK Gandhi had it, for foreign LLB-holding Indians in independent India
Much tougher than MK Gandhi had it, for foreign LLB-holding Indians in independent India

The Bar Council of India (BCI) has been in court for over one year now, defending its decision to debar one candidate from appearing for its lesser known Qualifying Examination for Indian National Holding Foreign Law Degree (qualifier) but the lawyer acting for the BCI in court is allegedly still not familiar with the qualifier exam.

A Mumbai University law graduate, whom the BCI had debarred from taking the 11th edition of the qualifier, as he had completed the last two years of his five year LLB course from Leicester University UK, had challenged the BCI’s decision in the Bombay high court in January 2017.

According to sources present at a hearing in the case on 12 February 2018, the BCI’s counsel was questioned by the judges about the frequency of the qualifier exam, to which he responded that it is a bi-annual exam. On being corrected by the petitioner’s counsel that it is the All India Bar Exam (AIBE) which is a bi-annual exam, whereas the foreign qualifier exam is organised only once every year, it emerged that arguing counsel was not familiar with the existence of a foreign qualifier exam separate from the AIBE.

18 candidates were allowed to take the 11th qualifier, out of which 16 appeared for the exam and 15 out of those 16 managed to pass the exam. These figures barely comprise a fraction of a percent of the AIBE's figures, which run to tens of thousands of candidates in each edition.

Also, the schedule of organising and declaring of results for the qualifier has always witnessed long delays.

The petitioner Jaidev Deepak Kalra has also challenged the qualifier for its exorbitant $2,000 application fee, which we have reported on in the past.

Court orders

Bombay high court judges BR Gavai and BP Colabawalla have so far not been inclined to interfere with the BCI's decision to debar Kalra from taking the exam, but on the BCI's counsel's submissions have directed that the regulator should give Kalra an opportunity to be heard before debarring him.

The BCI, which currently recognises undergraduate law degrees from 73 universities across the world, according to a list last updated on 18 May 2012 which is available on the BCI’s website, includes the LLB degree from Leicester.

In the BCI’s words the condition for such recognition, also provided on this list, is that:

The students have undergone a regular law course after graduation in the pattern of 10+2+3+3 or a 5 year course in the pattern of 10+2+5

Kalra had applied for the qualifier exam some time after he was conferred the LLB degree by Leicester on 19 July 2014. The BCI responded to him on 21 June 2015 rejecting his application.

On 30 November 2015 the petitioner re-applied for the exam again, and finally in December 2016 filed a writ against the BCI and the Mumbai University before the Bombay high court.

All in the numbers

However, “10+2+3+3” or “10+2+5” is not defined anywhere by the BCI but in the context of the Indian education system, it is understood to mean senior secondary school followed by higher secondary school, followed by three years of an undergraduate course followed by three years of a law degree n the case of “10+2+3+3”.

In the case of a 10+2+5, domestically this includes senior secondary school followed by higher secondary school followed by the 5-year integrated law degree.

But in the absence of a formal definition by the BCI, the condition on its face provides that a graduate must have completed 17 or 18 years of education culminating in a law degree, 12 of which should be school years before undergraduate college.

17 years and a law degree

Kalra had enrolled in the 5 year BLSLLB degree at Mumbai University, and took a lateral exit from the course after finishing three years and being conferred the BLS (Bachelor of Legal Science) degree by Mumbai University. The petitioner then enrolled in the 2-year LLB degree programme of Leicester University and graduated with the LLB degree.

It is his argument that having completed 17 years of education, including higher secondary school, an undergraduate BLS degree and an LLB degree from a foreign university recognised by the BCI, the “10+2+5” condition required by the BCI stands satisfied and the petitioner is eligible to take the qualifier exam.

However, the BCI rejected his application on the ground that a 3 year LLB degree is mandatory, and a 2 year LLB degree is invalid, in order to be eligible for the qualifier.

The petitioner has stated in his petition that the BCI “has failed to appreciate that under Rule 4 already an exception has been carved out wherein a student who has completed two years of graduation in any social science leading to BA degree and thereafter if has opted for the 3 years degree in law then the same is recognised as one composite five year course”.

On the point of the exorbitant fee for the exam, Kalra has added in the application:

There is no reason or explanation for such fees as merely an enrolment fee to sit for the said examination. It is yet again an infringement to the fundamental right of education of an Indian student as after completion of a costly course in a recognized foreign university such student is yet again to compel to make a payment of fees to the extent of US$2000 only as an enrolment fee to sit for a conversion exam organized by [the BCI].

It is not case the case that such fee is applicable for foreign students who are applying with the [BCI] and therefore such high fees is fixed as an enrolment for the said examination rather the students are of Indian national who have completed their law education from a foreign recognized university and thereafter return back to the country to practice as a professional in India.

The fees as fixed by the [BCI] appears to be more in the nature of a punishment for students who opt for education in foreign recognized universities.

We have reached out to BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra for comment.

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