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NLU Consortium moves Supreme Court challenging BCI decision to scrap one year LL.M; Hearing on interim relief on Feb 11

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Sushree Mohanty

A Consortium of National Law Universities (NLU Consortium) has moved toward the Supreme Court contesting the judgement of the Bar Council of India (BCI) to scrap the one-year LL.M program and derecognise LL.M from foreign universities.

A Three Judge Bench of Chief Justice of India, SA Bobde and Justices AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian heard the matter on February 10, 2021 prior to listing it for a hearing on February 11, 2021 to hear the counsels on interim relief.

In addition, the Consortium of National Law Universities, two individual applicants, Tamanna Chandan Chachlani and Rishabh Soni have likewise challenged the BCI’s decision.

The Bar Council of India issued notification to the BCI Legal Education (Post Graduate, Doctoral, Executive, Vocational, Clinical and other Continuing Education) Rules, 2020 (Rules) rejecting the one-year LL.M course. The principles were notified through the official gazette on January 4, 2021.

It instructed that the post-graduate course in law for Master’s certificate, i.e LL.M must be of two years spread across four semesters.

The Rules derecognised LL.M pursued from foreign universities expressing that the same degree must be in equivalence to a degree pursued in India.

Additionally it said that such a degree must be pursued only after completing a LL.B degree from either Indian or Foreign universities, which should also be in equivalence and recognised degree in India.

The NLU Consortium submitted that the actual foundation of these Rules is “fallacious and based upon a gross misunderstanding of the Advocates Act and/or other extant statutory provisions.”

The petition stated, “The Rules not only seek to assume jurisdiction and powers in derogation of the law but also usurp jurisdiction and authority vested in other statutory bodies”.

Senior Counsel Abhishek Manu Singhvi informed the Hon’ble Court that not even one of the National Law Universities was informed by Council before taking the decision.

“Not a single University was consulted. We don’t want to sound elitist but these NLUs are islands of excellence,” he said.

The plea also claims that the Advocates Act, under which Bar Council of India has reserved jurisdiction “cannot be used to regulate any degree or academic or vocational programme which is not a prerequisite to enrolling as an advocate in India”.

“Please look at the Advocates act. LLM is not a legal practitioner’s degree. BCI deals with enrolment requirement,” Dr. Singhvi argued.

“Are you saying Bar Council has no power to regulate LLM a it’s not a qualification for enrolment?” enquired CJI Bobde.

“Yes. One year course and two year course are regulated by UGC and it was brought by knowledge commission under the HRD ministry”, came the response from Dr. Singhvi.

In response to the BCI’s claim that it possesses the power to regulate higher legal education because NEP 2020 does not make any provision for it, the NLU Consortium stated that “mere absence of ‘legal education’ in NEP2020 cannot ipso facto vest powers in BCI to occupy the field.”

In light of the Bar Council India’s contentions that it has the ability to direct the higher education in as the National Education Policy 2020 has not made any arrangement for it, the NLU Consortium expressed that “mere absence of ‘legal education’ in NEP2020 cannot ipso facto vest powers in BCI to occupy the field.”

The Bench, during the deliberation, communicated its issuance of notice.

Dr. Singhvi argued for the grant of an interim relief referring to the way fact that many applications have been confirmed for admission to one-year LL.M course for the impending year.

“5,000 applications were received when rules were issued by BCI which stated that they will come into effect when they are notified. The students had to appear for LLM CLAT. Status Quo must continue,” he said.

The Bench directed that the candidate must turn in affidavit statements in the contention that students have applied for LL.M and the fees for the same has been deposited with the institutes, so the Court can consider for granting an interim relief regarding the matter.

The case was listed for further hearing on February 11, 2021 after Dr. Singhvi consented to file the said affidavits.

The Bar Council of India Rules, other than rejecting one-year LL.M likewise recommended a large number of different facilities identifying with the same.

It directed that admission to LL.M will be through Post Graduate Common Entrance Test in Law (PGCETL) which is led by the Bar Council India. Until the PGCETL is brought into action the current framework followed by separate Universities will be followed. When the Bar Council of India presents PGCETL it will be required to admit the students based on the merit list of the Test.

As for a LL.M acquired from a foreign college the Rules said that “LL.M. degree obtained from a Foreign University, which has been prosecuted without an equivalent LL.B. degree shall not be equivalent to Indian LL.M. degree”.

The plea forwarded through Advocate Rohit Kumar Singh contended that the Rules were pronounced without any lawful or statutory power and “that they are wholly arbitrary, unreasonable, irrational and disproportionate and violate Article 14 and Article 19(1)(g) of the Constitution of India.”

“There is no rational basis for the scrapping of the one-year LL.M. programme nor for other directions in the impugned Notification,” the plea has argued.

The lead applicant, Tamanna Chandan Chachlani, who is a law student, has additionally questioned the Rules to the degree of nullifying one-year LL.M program and neglecting to recognise the LL.M degree pursued from Foreign Universities.

The plea, documented through advovate on-record Rahul Shyam Bhandari, expressed that the Rules encroach the petition’s fundamental right to pursue education and is in violation of the same.

It additionally poses as an obstruction in her entitlement to practice a certain profession and will also affect her future profession and freedom of choosing a line of education of her choice.

There is no judicious explanation for cancelling the one-year LL.M program in the country and the verdict of the BCI is arbitrary, the petition argued.

It was likewise presented that the Council doesn’t have the authority to control higher education in the field of Law. That, the plea contests, is the work of University Grants Commission or of a specialist body.

Accordingly, the notice is ultra-vires its parent Act, i.e., Advocates Act of 1961, it asserts.