Law Ministry to focus on expansion, inclusion and excellence as part of second generation reforms in legal education

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Saturday called for a major overhaul of the legal education system in the country to bring it in tune with needs of the present day economy and society. Describing the current status of legal education as a “sea of institutionalised mediocrity” with a few islands of excellence, he stressed the need for “dramatic” reform and improvement in its scope and quality.

“We do have a small number of dynamic and outstanding law schools. But I am afraid they remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalised mediocrity.”

Inaugurating a two-day national consultation for second generation reforms in legal education convened by the Union Law Ministry, Dr. Singh stressed the need to need to make legal curricula multi-disciplinary, creative and flexible.

Pointing out that the very nature of law, of legal institutions and the practice of law were in the throes of a paradigm shift, he said the legal education system also needed to be particularly sensitive to the needs of the marginalised sections such as women, the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes and the poor. Not only do these sections of society need to be adequately represented among law students, but the system should also inculcate sensitivity towards their special needs.

“The opening of trade and capital markets, as a result of the processes of globalisation, and the retreat of the State from some of its traditional roles have raised new legal issues concerning the way in which the poor and marginalised sections can protect themselves from the adverse effects of these changes.”

The Prime Minister also pointed out that one of the most challenging tasks was to strike a proper balance to ensure that law students were taught a fair mix of courses that gave them knowledge and training in Indian law and at the same time, prepared them to face the challenges of globalisation, where domestic legal mechanisms interact with both international and foreign legal system systems. “This interaction is going to deepen in the years to come and our law schools must prepare themselves to face this challenge.”

Dr. Singh further noted that only in the recent times areas such as ethics in the judicial profession, alternative dispute resolution, rights of refugees, rights of prisoners and women and child rights were being given “their legitimate due” in the legal curriculum. “There is an urgent need to integrate these and other areas into a national uniform course module with fewer exceptions and fewer divergences.”

He called for more uniform, but calibrated and better salaries for law teachers, with “considerably improved” terms of service. “When we look for experts to head new law schools and the new faculties, we have precious few to choose from.”

Further, Dr. Singh stressed the need to regulate internship and post-degree placement of the students to match applicants and recipients appropriately. “Today, some students, who have the right contacts, have the luxury of plenty in terms of options, while several of their talented but less resourceful go abegging for placements.”

He emphasised the need for experienced and established legal luminaries, judges and other legal professionals to go through periodic and continuing legal education programmes.

Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily unveiled a vision statement for the consultation. He said the Ministry proposed to focus on expansion, inclusion and excellence as part of the second generation reforms in the area of legal education.

The plan for expansion includes establishment of four national institutions as centres of excellence and a national law university in every State, while the proposals for inclusions include creation of systems by which a first generation lawyer from backward and poverty-stricken background could rub shoulders with best at the national level. To provide for that, it was planned to establish an online national law library, with centres at the district level, and provision of internships in courts, apart from scholarships and fellowships.

The aim of excellence would be sought to be achieved by focusing on identifying and nurturing talent and providing opportunities for law students to pursue specialisation and continuous career development programmes.

Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan called for promoting research in all law colleges to inculcate critical thinking and stressed the need to bring about uniformity of standards in legal education and greater transparency in recruitment of teachers and in admissions. He also called for a mandatory examination for being admitted to the Bar.