The Bar Council of India in its recent decision has notified the new rules for regulating Legal Education in India. These brand-new set of rules bring significant changes to the existing framework, concerning the postgraduate law courses. While the new developmentpoints at a major misstep by the University Grants Commission (UGC) regarding the duration of LLM programmes and courses, some other guidelines in the rules do not seem to be a good sign for the future of legal education and fraternity in the country.
The Bar Council of India in its notification decided to scrap the One-Year LLM course which was first welcomed in the year2013. The new rules state that the Masters course for law would be of 2 years comprising of total 4 semesters. The current one-year LLM shall be valid until the newly formed Regulations are notified and brought into practice. The rules also mention that only Law graduates having a degree of LLB, BA LLB, BBA LLB or B.SC LLB can take up LLM programmes. Along with that, the Bar Council also announced a new annual Post Graduate Common Entrance Test in Law (PGCETL) for obtaining admission in the LLM course which shall be mandatory to admit the students on the basis of the merit list. The new policy shall come into force from the academic year 2022-23 until which the current system shall be followed. The following are some of the new specifications in the rules:
A passing score in any integrated Law or other law courses is a mandatory requirement for sitting in the new exam.
An LLM degree cannot be granted to a student if he/shedoes not have a Bachelor of Laws degree.
An LLM degree pursued from a Foreign University, without an equivalent LLB degree shall not be considered equal to an Indian LLM degree.
A one-year LLM degree obtained from any foreign University shall not be recognised as equivalent to an Indian LLM degree. However, if such a degree is gained from a highly accredited Foreign University, it may entitle the concerned person to be appointed as a visiting professor at an Indian Law University.
ABOLISHING CURRENT ONE-YEAR COURSE
The one-year LLM programme was introduced by University Grants Commission (UGC) in the year 2013 whereas the two-year LLM programme still was to be continued.A one-year LLM degree was offered subject to a few conditions concerning academic infrastructure and faculty strength of each law school. While its implementation was not compulsory i.e.optional, the context of its introduction led to creation of a two-tier system like the national law schools and private universities substituted their two-year programmes with one-year programmes, but most of the state universities chose to continue with the two-year programme. While this division could definitely be linked to better administrative dexterity which is beyond most state universities, it also corresponds to a desire on the part of these institutions to maximise commercial possibilities. A one-year programme was more marketable and suitable making it easier to attract students who otherwise would not have enrolled in an LLM degree.
ONE YEAR LLM DEGREE VS. TWO YEAR LLM DEGREE
The one-year integrated LLM degree as compared to the two-year course was less time consuming, saving one’s academic year. Nonetheless. one-year course was considered at par with the two-year programme in terms of value of the degree which has been very much acknowledged by UGC.On the contrary, a two-year course helped and individual to gain deeper insight and knowledge and prepare well for Dissertation as it gives sufficient and scope to focus on research and readings.
Thus, if one waslooking for job prospective or career growth point of view one-year LLM courseappeared practical, but if one was looking forward to gather deep academic knowledge and insight on legal intricacies then a two-year LLM course would seem more beneficial since the one-year LLM may get hectic on certain occasions given the assignments, semesters, practical, viva, dissertation everything which is the part of the curriculum and compiled in one academic year.
IMPRACTICALITY OF ONE-YEAR LLM PROGRAMME
Welcoming the one-year LLM course was a top-down management approach, which did not take into consideration the specific challenges of legal education in India. Most law schools in India lack the strong academic culture and infrastructure to implement such a rigorous one-year programme. Moreover, with the extremely uneven standard of legal education at the under-graduate level, many law teachers will be willing to attest that they often have to focus on basics even in postgraduate courses. Quite often, there is not sufficient scope to truly engage and indulge in advanced or specialised courses in a meaningful way, which defeats the very purpose of a postgraduate programme.
Taking into account these factors, the one-year LLM programme lacked adequate academic rigour and gaveinsufficient time for the students to significantly enhance their knowledge and skills. A two-year programme provides more time for both teachers and students to combat such systemic issues.
CHALLENGE TO THE DECISION:ROLE OF BCI IN LEGAL EDUCATION
The NLU Consortium as well as two individual petitioners have approached the Supreme Court challenging the decision of the BCI in scrapping one-year LLM programme and derecognising foreign LL.M degrees.The NLU Consortiumsubmitted that the BCI derives its authority to regulate legal education from Section 7(1)(h) and 7(1)(i) of the Advocates Act 1961which empowers the BCI to promote and lay down standards for legal education in India and to recognize Universities whose degree in law shall be a qualification for enrolling as an advocate.The petitionersalleged that the very foundation of these impugned Rules is based upon a gross misunderstanding of the Advocates Act and/or other extant statutory provisions and that there was no rational clarification for abolishing the one-year LL.M program in the country and that decision by BCI was vague.
It was submitted that the BCI did not have powers to regulate higher education in the field of Law.Being a regulatory body, it is just supposed to regulate institutions operating in a domain, and not take over the core functions. The plea said that such a decision was the job of University Grants Commission or of an expert body, holding the notification as ultra vires its parent Act, i.e. Advocates Act of 1961.
While the BCI has discontinued the one-year LLM, its willingness to expand its influence and control is perturbing, especially when legal education has become more diverse than before and has many more possibilities beyond a career inside courtrooms.It is very much possible that with the abolition of the one-year LLM, there will be a downturn in the number of postgraduate students. However, it will also mean that it will be possible to provide a more meaningful learning opportunity for serious candidates.