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In a victory for students of law colleges in Maharashtra, the Bombay High Court last month held that admissions to law courses for 2017-18 would not be subject to the Bar Council of India’s approval.
The Bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and Justice GS Kulkarni passed the order in a petition filed by students of the city’s SNDT University, represented by advocate IA Saiyed. The petition not only questions the power of the BCI to approve law colleges, but also challenges the body’s role in legal education itself.
The final two prayers in the petition read,
“iii) Direct BCI not to collect any fees including inspection fees from the Law colleges and if at all to be recovered then the appropriate Government be directed to pay the same, and;
iv) BCI be directed not to have any direct/indirect control on the functioning of Law colleges, and prevent them from sending resolutions to the Law colleges every now and then.”
In essence, the petitioners are contending that although the BCI can law down the standards of legal education, it has absolutely no power to grant approval. Nor does the BCI have the power to take action if these standards are not met.
The Bench noted that a similar challenge to the BCI’s and the State Bar Councils’ powers to oversee legal education as per Sections 7 and 6 of the Advocates Act was pending before the Supreme Court. It did, however, grant relief to students whose admissions were put on hold pending the BCI’s approval of colleges in the state.
The state government, one of the respondents in the petition, reportedly filed an affidavit citing the “hindrance” caused by the BCI during last year’s admissions to law colleges in Maharashtra, done through the Common Entrance Test. The state also questioned the BCI’s authority to regulate education institutions directly.
After the Law CET admissions concluded in November last year, the BCI had decided that it would not recognise these colleges, and that students graduating from them would not be given a licence to practice in courts. Such students, they said, would be the “liability of the state”.
This petition was subsequently filed in the High Court. It also assailed the BCI’s decision to de-recognize Government Law College, Mumbai and three other law colleges in the city, a move which Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra justified, stating,
“Large number of colleges in Maharashtra including GLC, Mumbai don’t have proper infrastructure and faculty.”
However, GLC claimed that neither did it receive any notice from the regulator of the legal profession, nor was an inspection of the campus undertaken since 2013.
The Supreme Court will be the final authority to decide the extent of the role played by the BCI in legal education, whenever the matter comes up before it.
Read the order dated April 20: