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Law teachers ask BCI for say in legal ed & to scrap compulsory web portal fees

BCI: Not listening to teachers
BCI: Not listening to teachers

80 Indian law teachers from 32 Indian and three foreign universities addressed a petition to the Bar Council of India (BCI) yesterday, urging the regulator to “consult more meaningfully” with legal academics while framing policies related to legal education.

The petition also requested the BCI to take back its 28 May circular announcing a mandatory fee-based registration for all law teachers, students, and law colleges for the purposes of an online database.

In the petition, the teachers took “very strong exception” to a statement of the BCI made in the parliamentary standing committee reviewing the Higher Education and Research Bill 2011 (HER) this year, in which the regulator said that “lawyers are well conversant with the problems, and they are the best person to decide as to what is needed for the students perusing legal education”.

The BCI reportedly added: “The academics have a limited role to teach the books which are almost all authored either by noted lawyers or the judges.”

But in their petition the academics asked for “maximal autonomy” for law schools to prescribe the minimum mandatory courses to be offered and the course curriculums to be followed.

They expressed concern over the fact that the BCI’s legal education committee recently has only had a small minority of legal educators among its members, the latest representation being two out of a total of 36 members.

They also pointed out that the National Knowledge Commission has already “made strong note” of the “consultative deficit” by the legal education committee with legal academics.

The BCI has been fighting with the Ministry of Human Resource Development (HRD) about who should end up regulating legal education, but the petition does not get into that issue.

NUJS Kolkata professor Shamnad Basheer, who has drafted the petition, told Legally India when signatures were first requested around a month ago: “We’re not getting into the existing structure within the [Advocates] Act. There are a number of conflicted views on those issues. But within the existing structure, the fact that [the BCI] have not consulted meaningfully [is at issue]. This takes the debate to an open platform.”

According to the academics, lack of consultation has resulted in “alien” and “excessively burdensome” legal education norms, from the perspective of law schools.

Database

The petitioners also opposed the BCI’s 28 May circular proposing to create an online database of law students, teachers, colleges and advocates after collection of compulsory registration fee, including Rs 3,000 every three years from law teachers.

The alleged lack of consultation by the BCI with the academics, prior to imposing a “financial burden” on law teachers, besides throwing up concerns related to “the privacy of data that is uploaded on a public website”, was not acceptable to the academics.

They urged the BCI to remove the notification and create a modified version only after consultation with a “wide cross-section of academics” and after allowing sufficient time for public comment.

Signatories to the petition include former NUJS vice chancellor MP Singh, former Delhi University vice chancellor Upendra Baxi, Alternative Law Forum founder Lawrence Liang, a faculty at University of Oxford, one at Oklahoma University and two faculty at the National University of Singapore, including former Amarchand Mangaldas partner Dr. V Umakanth.

The petition was today also emailed by Basheer to BCI chairman Manan Kumar Mishra, supported by an online version of the petition signed by 250 law students and lawyers.

The email was also sent to members of parliament and HER standing committee chair Oscar Fernandez, law minister Salman Khurshid, and HRD minister Kapil Sibal.

Download the petition here

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