Clinical legal education, which is a part of legal education, aims to impart practical experience along with theoretical knowledge. Though it is a part of the law school curriculum, it has almost become a ritual without much impact on the students or society. This article aims to highlight the practice of clinical legal education as experienced by the authors in the Legal Aid Clinic established in the year 2009 in Jindal Global Law School.
The Legal Aid Clinic was established with an aim to ease access to justice by providing legal aid and creating awareness in the villages surrounding our college in Sonepat. Being a law school based clinic, it also aims to address the problematic methods of orthodox legal education which merely contain conversations of social justice within the classroom. According to our mandate, a select group of students from college work on various legal matters which are referred to our clinic by the residents of villages in our vicinity. In addition to this, the Clinic also assists the Legal Services Authorities and various practising lawyers by working on different legal tasks like drafting, research and client counselling. Additionally awareness workshops have been conducted, and the daily work of the Clinic involves filing Representations, Right to Information Applications and Public Interest Litigations.
The work of the Legal Aid Clinic spans several fields of legal aid ranging from filing RTI applications, to drafting representations. Some of our contributions at the Legal Aid Clinic includes our work towards obtaining two favourable orders in Maintenance cases taken up for divorced women, resolving claims under R.T.E. by getting children admitted under Economically Weaker Category, filing one P.I.L. in Gorakhpur to secure an investigation into the death of more than 100 children due to non-supply of oxygen cylinders, and filing another P.I.L. in Allahabad High Court to resolve the ambiguity of Section 12(1)(c) R.T.E., through which 5,000 students were benefited. Additionally, the clinic also secured medical treatment to a 75 year old women suffering from cancer by filing a representation to the Chief Medical Officer at Allahabad. Furthermore, Right To Information applications were filed, exposing the admission scam at National School of Drama. Moreover, several other RTI applications were filed relating to the allocation of funds for widows under Swadhar Greh Scheme after conducting a detailed inspection in Vrindavan, U.P. and Maqboolpura, Punjab. In this manner, the work of the Legal Aid Clinic has been extensive and vital.
The practice of clinical legal education is also integral to strengthen socio-legal movements that seek to reaffirm democratic ideals. The Legal Aid Clinic has been rigorously involved in several sociolegal struggles, and several of its actions have often transpired into socio-legal movements. For instance, a detailed report drafted by the Legal Aid Clinic regarding the draft Environment Impact Assessment 2020 garnered the attention of national media, as it escalated to include the support of multiple student-led organisations across the nation. Clinical legal education also enables a comprehensive training into grasping the politics surrounding access to justice, and allows students to understand the lived realities of law. Through clinics, students can witness the profound contradictions that marginalised communities have to confront while interacting with the law. In this regard, Justice Muralidhar stated that texts including the Constitution, are not merely legal, but rather hold political and sociological meanings. Clinical education enables such an interdisciplinary reading of legal texts, allowing sociological and political concepts to promote a complex and nuanced reading of the law.
Thus, the LAC at JGLS is a testimony of clinical education attempting to address the politics involved in accessing justice and along with that bringing into practice the myopic curriculums followed in the law school. The activities done under the ambit of this clinic has helped students gain a first hand experience of practical legal skills. Additionally, as opposed to the high social capital and networking required to enrol in internships, clinical education within law schools can accommodate students without the privilege of institutional access, and provide them with essential practical knowledge. However, clinical programs have been sidelined in law curriculums today often playing the peripheral role of a co-curricular activity. In light of this, it becomes pivotal to institutionalize such clinical programs in legal curriculums, so that students can engage with law in a rigorous fashion. So far, the four clinical courses prescribed by the Bar Council of India operate simply as a formality instead of serving as an actual forum to inculcate the required practical skill-set. Thus, it is essential to emphasise further on an institutionalised model of clinical education in order to impart actual litigation experience to each and every law student, and create engaged and critical legal thinkers.
Watch Justice Muralidhar's Lecture On Legal Education
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(Divyansh Saluja is a fourth year law student at Jindal Global Law School Achintya Anita Gurumurthy is a second year law student at Jindal Global Law School)