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Age as a BARrier

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New rule: Bar Council wants to render the legal profession younger.
New rule: Bar Council wants to render the legal profession younger.

DEEPA KURUP

BCI plan for age restrictions on studying law has colleges worried

Classrooms being a picture of diversity in law colleges may soon be a thing of the past. If the new age restrictions on legal education are indeed implemented, then legal education will be out of bounds for charted accountants, retired government employees and interested entrepreneurs who wish to either pick up the nuances of the legal system, or wish to switch late to a career in law.

For example, 42-year-old businessman Vishwanathan P.A., who has worked in his family business for decades, wanted to pursue his dream of studying law, and apply the corporate law aspects in his professional life. He is studying law in Bangalore University. However, if the Bar Council of India (BCI) has its way, from this year on scores of candidates like him will be turned away.

The reason: recently, BCI, the apex body governing legal education, announced that henceforth candidates above the age of 20 will not be eligible to seek admissions to the integrated five-year LL.B course, which is open to candidates who finish 12th Standard, or an equivalent course. Further, the age limit for the three-year LL.B. degree is fixed at 30 — applicants should hold a bachelor’s degree in any discipline.

The rules also make concession for SC/ST and OBC students who can join a five-year course (after Standard XII) at 22 and a three-year post-graduation course at 35. A circular to the effect was sent to all 87 law colleges in the State. Hundreds will be affected by the age-limit on the three-year course.

Even as academics and law college principals are calling for a debate on the issue, a few writ petitions have been filed, and lawyer groups and colleges are challenging this new rule. The BCI has reportedly said that the rule intends to render the profession younger and raise the bar in legal education. Though law college managements across the country, which are worried about having to shut shop, are crying hoarse, the seven elite National Law Schools have for long enforced this age limit.

Speaking to The Hindu, NLSIU Registrar V. Nagaraj says the number of candidates applying (above 20) is fairly negligible, though he admits that the scene will be different in smaller colleges and rural areas. “However, it must be considered that often, among the less-fortunate sections of society, people do not complete their Pre-University or 12th Standard courses on time. Denying all of them the right to study law may not be a right move,” he says.

Ready for legal battle

The age limit in the premier law schools has not been a cause for debate because of the limited number of seats and the exclusivity of the courses. However, the board of studies of several prominent universities have written to the BCI, and are ready to take the matter to court. Both aided and private law colleges even face the risk of winding up all together, or being forced to hike their fees if the new regulation is enforced.

In Bangalore University, the age limit for five-year courses was removed in 2008 (previously it was 22) after opposition by affiliated colleges. A Karnataka State Bar Council member said that if this rule was indeed enforced, a majority of the 38 law colleges would shut down. “Principals have written a letter to the BCI, like several other universities, asking it to repeal the rule.”

Traditionally, a majority of students in the three-year courses join looking for value-addition to their current careers, or out of interest. N. Dasarath, Principal and dean of faculty of law, Bangalore University, feels that several colleges will suffer if this rule is retained.

“The BCI is saying it doesn’t want older people to study, and that it wants to reduce the crowd in courts. But is dissuading interested people the right way to prevent crowding?” he asks. As it is, colleges have barely 25-28 admissions in each classroom, he points out.


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