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Exclusive: Bar exam postponed to December, BCI tells SC

Exam study
Exam study
The Bar Council of India (BCI) has agreed to postpone the planned bar exam to December, BCI counsel KK Venugopal told the Supreme Court today in the case BCI v Bonnie FOI Law College & Ors, admitting the logistical challenge of holding the exam before September in a surprise U-turn.

Venugopal, who is representing the BCI in the case, told the Supreme Court in a brief hearing: "July and August was fixed for the examination of 60k advocates who will have to take the exam.

"We want the extension because we want a lot of preparation to be done."

Justice Dalveer Bhandari accepted the submission, asking whether the BCI had imposed an "embargo" or deadline on the holding of the exam.

Venugopal answered that no such embargo existed and submitted that a December date for holding the bar exam should be taken as the new schedule.

One lawyer closely associated with the case told Legally India, on condition of anonymity: "We shall be able to inform the schedule for examination around first week of June and the same shall be brought to the notice of the Apex Court."

When asked about whether an amendment of the Advocate's Act for introducing a compulsory bar exam was necessary, the lawyer said: "There is no need to amend the Advocates Act. The bar exam is a post-enrolment qualification and not the pre-enrollment one. One can still get enrolled as an advocate, form a law firm, but to practice before the court you will have to pass the bar exam."

The case of BCI v Bonnie FOI Law College & Ors (No 22337 of 2008) remains pending before the Supreme Court.

The case dealt with the affiliation and recognition of law colleges by the BCI, and particularly that "it is a matter of common knowledge that before granting affiliation proper exercise is not carried out".

A report on the subject was commissioned by the Supreme Court by a three-member committee on reform of legal education, which was headed by solicitor general and now BCI chairman Gopal Subramaniam.

The committee recommended, inter alia, that "qualifying a bar examination should be made a requirement prior to admission to the Bar by all State Bar Councils across the country. In light of the decision of the Supreme Court in the V Sudeer case, such a requirement may be introduced in the Advocates Act, 1961 by means of a statutory amendment."

Yesterday, NUJS professor Shamnad Basheer and final year students wrote a letter to Subramaniam requesting that the bar exam be deferred to 2011, because it would prejudice graduating students, would not allow sufficient time to organise a credible examination and would be impossible without an amendment to the Advocates Act.

Commenting on the development, Basheer told Legally India: "Shifting the exam to December is excellent from the point of view of logistics. And certainly gives me a lot of confidence that we are likely to have a good quality bar exam that is well executed. However, from the point of view of students graduating this year, it may cause some inconvenience, since they do not have the right to practice a good 7 to 8 months after they graduate with law degrees - assuming the exams would be corrected and results declared only by February next year."

"Secondly," he added, "I’m not sure whether the court carefully considered the decision in Sudeer and the necessity or otherwise of amending the Advocates Act. It will be terribly unfortunate if resources are expended towards planning for a bar exam only to find that it is later struck down for want of legality. By way of abundant caution, and given that there is nationwide support for a bar exam, the Bar Council must try and initiate an amendment to the Advocates Act."
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