Colleges

Moving towards equal opportunity

The Common Law Admission Test this year comes with a change. The upper age limit of 20 years for applying to the undergraduate programmes in the National Law Schools has been scrapped by the orders of the Rajasthan High Court and the Allahabad High Court.

Recently, vide its order dated March 4, 2015, in the case of Kshitij Sharma & Anr. v. Bar Council of India & Anr., the Hon'ble Rajasthan High Court scrapped the upper age limit of the Common Law Admission Test for admission to the 16 National Law Schools in India. This comes post the order of the Hon'ble Allahabad High Court dated February 26, 2015 in the case of Devashish Pathak & Ors. v. Bar Council of India & Ors., which was also to the same effect.

Equal opportunities

The Courts have based their judgment on the reasoning that a large number of prospective law students come from rural areas and they might not be able to clear their higher secondary examinations by the age of 17 (the upper age limit for the CLAT is 20). This would deny them an equal opportunity to study in these elite institutions.

The Allahabad High Court judgment followed a different reasoning, stating that since the Bar Council of India had not set an upper age limit for admission to the five-year law programme, the CLAT convener has no authority to do the same. The Court also noted that, certain opportunities such as Judicial Clerkships at the High Courts and Supreme Courts are offered solely to National Law School students, and it would be antithetical to equality if a fair chance to join the same is not afforded to all interested parties.

Positive transformation

Following these orders, we can expect a diverse population to attend such law schools. In a way this would lead to the transformation of the five-year LLB Programme into an equivalent of the Juris Doctor (J.D.) of U.S. Law schools which have people of all ages and from all walks of life attending the course. This would enable the formation of a very strong peer group which is the hallmark of all great law schools across the world.

A brilliant example would be the admissions page at Yale, which mentions admitted candidates not by their academic credentials but experience, e.g. a former U.S. marine, a school teacher, a hitchhiker, an Iraq war veteran etc. This highlights the exceptional peer group through which most of the practical learning would happen during the course of the programme and the diverse experience of whose members would help explore newer applications of the law.

Younger students would benefit from the experience of their older peers. Going back to the idea of newer applications of law; there is already a surge in demand for specialized lawyers in niche areas, and we already have law schools catering to that.

An example would be the Rajiv Gandhi School of Intellectual Property Law at IIT Kharagpur which is meant exclusively for engineers, who can better appreciate the scientific nitty-gritties of Patents and Trademarks. A better idea would be pursuing three-year Law Programmes at National Law Schools (NALSAR, Hyderabad already has one in the pipeline), which would have the same National Law School rigour and excellence, while admitting more experienced students to the course.

While the top tier law schools such as NLSIU, Bangalore and NALSAR, Hyderabad keep the intake constant at 80, some of the law schools have gone as far as increasing it to 200. The problem remains that without proper faculty and a scope of employment after the completion of the degree, it would be utopian to have so many students graduating with the National Law School tag. We also need to keep in mind that law schools can be quite expensive considering that the cumulative fees for 5 years can range anywhere between Rs.7 to 15 lakhs. The central government can play an active role over here by providing alternative sources of funding so that NLUs are not crippled by reservation policies of individual States, and so that students from financially weaker backgrounds can afford to study at a National Law School.

The high fees forces fresh law graduates from NLUs to scout for a high paying job as soon as they graduate. This undermines the basic idea behind the National Law Schools — betterment of the Bar.

The central government needs to take the idea of National Law Schools far more seriously by establishing a central body such as the Governing Council of the IITs, and have central legislation for the NLUs on the lines of the IIT Act, 1961. Scrapping the age limit is one unintentional step towards greatness, which we should be thankful for. And on the same note, we await more changes, when the NLS idea is realised in its entirety.

The writer is an undergraduate student of law at Hidayatullah National Law University, Chhattisgarh. He can be reached at hnlu.subhro@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 11:12:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/education/college-and-university/moving-towards-equal-opportunity/article7119264.ece

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