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CAN ONE BECOME AN ADVOCATE WITHOUT A DEGREE FROM A RECOGNIZED LAW SCHOOL?

INTRODUCTION

Law has always been a profession of immense qualification in India. Ranging from research to corroborate their arguments in court to maintaining legal matters of MNCs, all this requires a deep understanding of the subject combined with practical experience. The recent supreme court ruling, upholding the restricted access to enrolment as advocates under the State Bar Councils to students from recognised universities only, demands a revisit to sections 24, 24A, and 49 of the Advocates Act,[1] 1961, and a legal understanding of the conditions so imposed counter the rights prescribed under Article 19(1)(g) and 21[2] of the India Constitution.

BCI VS RABI SAHU & ANR

The case was first admitted in Orissa High Court in 2011 by petitioner Rabi Sahu challenging the implausible conditions imposed by the Bar Council of India for students to have a law degree from recognised universities only to get enrolled as advocates. The petition argued that unless an applicant fulfils the conditions under Section 24(1)[3] of The Advocates Act of 1961 and does not stand any bar of disqualification under Section 24A,[4] he or she shall be entitled to enrolment as an advocate.

The Orissa high court ruled in favour of the petitioner and ordered BCI to enrol him as an advocate under the act. The case was later appealed in the Supreme Court of India in 2013 and has been under scrutiny since then, until 9 June 2023, when the SC bench comprising Justice Sanjay Kumar and Justice Vikram Nath ruled its judgment in favour of BCI.[5]
The court highlighted a combined reading of Section 49 and Section 24(3)(d)[6] of the said act vests with BCI the power to impose such conditions, thereby upholding the validity of the provision that only students from recognised universities can join the Bar Council of India as Advocates.

ARGUMENTS FOR THE RULE

One of the primary arguments in favour of the rule was that law as a subject and its use in society requires[7] qualified knowledge and impartation of practical experience along with the theoretical concepts by the university. Such qualifications provide the basic pillars through which BCI evaluates colleges across India to grant them affiliation, therefore any institution imparting legal education in breach of these standards does not stand a chance of recognition by the BCI. This encapsulates that students graduating from such universities are illegible and incompetent to practice as advocates in India.

The conditions required[8] to be fulfilled by universities also include management, infrastructural, and academic development etc in the premises, thereby providing an all-round review of the quality of education and student development in such institutions.

Therefore, institutions that function in violation of such academic amenities are unable to render proper impartation and remain backwards in adding to the all-round development of their students.

Unlike the BCI the respondent Rabi Sabu didn’t put forth strong enough arguments to propagate the violation of his fundamental rights and was unable to convince the bench to rule in his favour.

CRITICAL ANALYSIS

The issue of whether students from unrecognised institutions by the Bar Council of India (BCI) should be allowed to enrol as advocates can be of intense debate. Although graduated from a not-so-competent university, a student’s qualification can not be judged only by his/her alma mater. Today’s society is filled with self-made people from every sphere of life, whether it may be entrepreneurs, the IT sector, financing, and even lawyers. These individuals have demonstrated expertise and success even despite not having graduated from prestigious universities,

Thus, analysing someone’s expertise on a subject matter based only on their educational background can render a counterproductive loss of intelligence from society. It is crucial to consider alternate pathways and evaluate individuals based on their intellectual assets such as skills, practical experience, etc. Such inclusive ways can always lead to diversity and innovation within the legal profession.

While at the same time, maintaining certain standards and ensuring competence within the field is important for round development, it is equally essential to give way to individuals who have attained their respective expertise through unconventional and non-recognised institutions. Such a holistic approach can contribute to a broader pool of talent and benefit from the array of experience brought to the table by these individuals.

THE IMPACT ON LEGAL EDUCATION AND ACCESS TO JUSTICE

This recent supreme court judgment has implications for both legal education as well as access to justice. The concentration of resources and affiliation with the Bar Council of India to limited institutions can lead to limitations in access to education for the have-nots, since graduating from such institutions does not contribute to the availability of opportunities to the candidate, they are inclined to go for the recognised universities which usually are a strain on their wallets.

Furthermore, the ruling raises concerns about access to justice as talented students from non-recognised universities may be excluded from the legal profession. This could potentially worsen the existing gaps in access to justice and limit the availability of competent advocates to disadvantaged sections of society.

CONCLUSION

The recent supreme court ruling on enrolment as advocates from recognised universities have ignited intense debate regarding the impact of such conditions on the quality of legal assistance provided to society by maintaining standards and ensuring competency while at the same time recognizing the potential talent that individuals from non-recognised universities hold. Hence, striking a balance between inclusivity along with quality stands is the need of the hour. To strike this balance, the BCI can consider adopting a more flexible approach. Rather than solely relying on the university affiliation factor and abiding by their stringent regulations, they can introduce other competency assessment tests that better measure the intellectual knowledge of the candidate rather than disqualifying him based on his alma mater. Such an assessment system can moreover act as a catalyst for innovation and improvement within legal education itself.

Author(s) Name: Akshat Chandani (National Law Institute University (NLIU), Bhopal)

References:

[1] The Advocates Act, 1961, s 24, s 24A, s 49

[2] The Constitution of India,1950 , art 19(1)(g), art 21

[3] The Advocates Act, 1961, s 24(1)

[4] The Advocates Act, 1961, s 24A

[5] Telegraph India, ‘BCI Rules for Candidate Seeking Enrolment as Advocate to Have Completed Law Course from Recognised College Are Valid: Supreme Court’ < https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/bci-rules-for-candidate-seeking-enrolment-as-advocate-to-have-completed-law-course-from-recognised-college-are-valid-supreme-court/cid/1943756 > accessed 13 June 2023

[6] The Advocates Acr, 1961, s49, s 24(3)(d)

[7] ‘Affiliation and Recognition of Colleges and Universities « The Bar Council of India’ < Affiliation and recognition of colleges and universities « The Bar Council of India > accessed 13 June 2023

[8] ibid