Bar Council of India’s notification abolishing one-year LLM course challenged in Supreme Court

Published : January 13, 2021 15:27 IST

A view of the Dr Ambedkar Government Law College in Chennai. A file picture. Photo: M. Vedhan

On January 4, the Bar Council of India (BCI) issued a notification that sought to abolish the one-year LLM (Master of Law) course in India and partly derecognise an LLM degree obtained from outside the country. The Legal Education (Post-Graduate, Doctoral, Executive, Vocational, Clinical and other Continuing Education), Rules, 2020, also brought in changes concerning fellowship and PhD programme.

A law student, Tamanna Chandan Chachlani, has challenged the notification before the Supreme Court. Her petition, filed through Advocate-on-record Rahul Shyam Bhandari, states that the new rules are discriminatory and infringe on her fundamental right to education.

Filed under Article 32 of the Constitution, the petition states that the new rules amount to interference in her right to “practise profession” and will adversely affect her future career and liberty of choosing quality education. There is no rational clarification for abolishing the one-year LLM programme in the country, the petition adds.

“The impugned notification doesn’t have the constitutional mandate of Schedule VII of the Constitution of India. There is no logical corollary to equate a one-year foreign LLM with an Indian two year LLM,” said Rahul Shyam Bhandari.

The petition submits that the BCI does not have powers to regulate higher education in the field of law, which is the job of the University Grants Commission (UGC) or of an expert body. The notification is ultra vires its parent Act, i.e., Advocates Act of 1961, and an usurpation of powers provided to the UGC, the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD) and universities, it states.

According to the new rules, LLM must be of two years spread over four semesters. The one-year LLM, introduced in 2013 by the UGC, will remain operative and valid until the academic session in which these regulations are notified and implemented but not thereafter at any university throughout the country.

The BCI, either directly or through its Trust, will annually conduct a Post Graduate Common Entrance Test in Law (PGCETL) for admission in LLM in all universities. Until the PGCETL is introduced the present system followed by respective universities will continue. Once the PGCETL is introduced, it shall be mandatory to admit students from the merit list of the test.

Regarding a postgraduate degree obtained from a foreign university, the new rules state that the master’s degree must have been taken only after obtaining the LLB from any foreign or Indian university which is equivalent to the recognised LLB degree in India. The only exception herein would be if someone has a teaching experience of one year in an Indian university post their LLM obtained after an equivalent LLB degree from any highly accredited foreign university.

The rules suggest that since legal education has been kept out of the regulatory control of Higher Education Commission of India and its arm, the National Higher Education Regulatory Council, the BCI has to step in to regulate the same.

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