The Bar Council of India on Friday informed the Karnataka High Court that it has constituted a sub-committee to address the issue of how mandatory regulations for all final year students of Five Year Law Course, to engage themselves in moot courts, internships, pre-trial preparation etc, can be relaxed or alternative rules can be formulated.
Advocate Shridhar Prabhu appearing for the Council informed the High Court that the sub-commitee is also contemplating whether Law Universities can be given liberty to frame their alternative rules, for the academic year 2019-20.
He argued that the University Grants Commission (UGC) has mandated that from September 2020 all final year exams have to be concluded. This decision is impugned before the Supreme Court and the petition is likely to be taken up for hearing Monday. He said, "Suppose the honourable supreme court was to say that the final year exam cannot be held at all, then this petition need not be adjudicated."
Prabhu argued that the Council was in a catch-22 situation, as "One view is that from first year onwards there are students who have attended chambers, maintained diaries, despite syllabus being prescribed for the final year. In fact, even the last semester students during the first phase of the semester from February, have participated in the chamber meetings and moot courts. One set of students are saying that we have already attended and we cannot be placed alongside with students who have never participated. Second set of students are saying we never expected such a thing to happen, so we were waiting for the second part of the semester to complete this."
He even contended that the petitioners, Gautham R and Krishnamurthy T K, students of University Law College, Bangalore, have filed the petition for personal benefit and thus the petition could not be a Public Interest Litigation.
A bench of Chief Justice Abhay Oka and Justice H P Sandesh observed, "A combination of prayers can be made in a PIL or writ petition.The welfare of law students is also a matter of public interest as far as the institution of judiciary is concerned."
The court has now directed the petitioners to implead the Karnataka State Law University as party respondent to the petition, so that similar directions can be made to it.
The court had on the last hearing date T directed the Bar Council of India (BCI) to clarify if it has powers to relax rules and if it has been exercised to allow Law Universities to issue alternative guidelines, to dispense the mandatory regulations for all final year students of Five Year Law Course, to engage themselves in moot courts, internships, pre-trial preparation etc, for the academic year 2019-20.
The bench then said
"Today Bar council members may have taken this decision but tomorrow we may not know what will happen. So we have to secure the future of the students."
The bench added, "Suppose a student wants to pursue education in a foreign University after completion of course and if the degree is not recognised at a later stage, it will affect their career."
The petition states that Schedule II of Part IV of the Bar Council of India Rules outlines the academic standards and courses a legal institution needs to impart in the course of legal education. Part II (B) under Entry 6 of Schedule II of the Rules of Legal Education (Part IV of Bar Council of India Rules) provides for "Compulsory Clinical Courses" which must be conducted by the respective Universities/Institutions. Under the said Entry 6, Paper 24 pertains to "Moot Court Exercise and Internship" which reads as follows:
Moot court exercise and Internship: This paper may have three components of 30 marks each and a viva for: 10 marks.
(a) Moot Court (30 Marks). Every student may be required to do at least three moot courts in a year with 10 marks for each. The moot court work will be on assigned problems and it will be evaluated for 5 marks for written submissions and 5 marks for oral advocacy.
(b) Observance of Trial in two cases, one Civil and one Criminal (30 marks):
Students may be required to attend two trials in the course of the last two or three years of LLB. studies. They will maintain a record and enter the various steps observed during their attendance on different days in the court assignment. This scheme will carry 30 marks.
(c) Interviewing techniques and Pre-trial preparations and Internship diary (30 marks): Each student will observe two interviewing sessions of clients at the Lawyer's Office/ Legal Aid Office and record the proceedings in a diary, which will carry 15 marks. Each student will further observe the preparation of documents and court papers by the Advocate and the procedure for the filing of the suit/petition. This will be recorded in the diary, which will carry 15 marks.
On account of the impending COVID-19 pandemic, the High Court has laid down certain Standard Operating Procedures for the regular functioning and operation of the Courts wherein it has been categorically laid down that the entry of Advocates' clerks, litigants as well as any other third parties have been strictly prohibited into the premises of the courts, sans permission.
In such circumstances, it would be impossible for the students of final year of law to enter the court premises and observe the court proceedings or to observe interviewing sessions of clients at a Lawyer's Office/Legal Aid Office for the purpose of completion of the course, the petitioners contended.
The Law Chambers/Firms of Advocates are also reluctant to encourage students from law schools to intern at their offices keeping in mind the principles of social distancing. The indifference and apathy at the hands of the respondents is likely to vex the mobility of the students en masse, highlighted the petitioenrs.
The plea prays for direction to respondents to dispense with clause (b) and (c) of Paper 24 under Schedule II of Part IV of Bar Council of India Rules ("Rules of Legal Education") for the academic year 2019-2020.