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Bar & Bench spoke to Bar Council of India Chairman Manan Kumar Mishra. In this interview, he talks about upcoming All India Bar Examination, appointment of the new agency to conduct the exam, financial arrangement with new agency, legal education, web portals and entry of foreign law firms.
Bar & Bench: Why was the contract with Rainmaker terminated? How was the new agency, ITES Horizon appointed?
Manan Kumar Mishra: The agreement with Rainmaker actually concluded in March 2012. The BCI simply decided not to extend the agreement with Rainmaker because several questions were being raised about some irregularities with regard to Rainmaker although there was in fact no irregularity.
We then invited tenders and Rainmaker too submitted the tender and participated in the interview process. Five agencies had applied including ITES Horizon and after considering all the pros and cons, we decided to award the contract to ITES Horizon. There is a separate committee for the AIBE called the All India Bar Committee and this Committee, after interviewing the candidates and after going through all their papers and their offers, decided to give it to ITES Horizon.
ITES has been in service for the past 13 years and they have the relevant expertise in conducting such exams. We are satisfied with the way they are doing it and now everything is both online and offline. The number of candidates has increased and is around 35,000. It has become very easy for the candidates and the BCI through the bank challan system.
Bar & Bench: So you think ITES along with the BCI has the expertise to conduct the fourth AIBE successfully on December 9?
Manan Kumar Mishra: Yes. We have also requested the Chief Justice of India to nominate a sitting judge or a retired judge to oversee and monitor this exam. I have also sent a letter to the Chief Justice of India stating that if he is unable to make the nomination because of his busy schedule, then the BCI will nominate a judge. We have kept ourselves totally aloof from the process of exam, because the exam should be totally impartial; it should be done in fair manner.
Bar & Bench: Why has the fee for AIBE been raised? Haven’t you faced a lot of objections due to the increase in fees?
Manan Kumar Mishra: The students have raised no objections. Otherwise the number of candidates appearing for the upcoming exam would not have increased to about 35,000. Only some particular elements with vested interests are raising bogus allegations and objections. You see the entire expenditure of the Council, right from the BCI up to State Bar Councils, the advertisements; the cost of the staff etc. have increased.
The BCI has also decided that a part of this income from the AIBE will go for the welfare of the lawyers. Now, the candidates who are going to join the profession will also be benefited. This income is not for any particular individual. This is an institution and we have certain duties under the Advocates Act, which includes welfare of lawyers for which we don’t receive any grant or aid from the government. Therefore, this increase cannot be questioned.
See, for writing the CLAT the total fee is Rs. 3,500, but nobody is raising his or her voices against this. All this hue and cry is being made for the AIBE fee of Rs. 1,900. Only a few persons who could not succeed in the tender are doing this. They are setting up persons and making these bogus objections through the media. We were ignoring it, but now they are crossing the limit.
We also found that these people were selling all the study material and the model question papers for AIBE for Rs. 2,800. We don’t want a shop should be set up for this (AIBE) and therefore we won’t be giving out any study material this time. These people are trying to pressurize ITES Horizon and the BCI to give the model question papers on the website. We are not giving out any study material. The students will be asked simple questions from their LL.B course and no other study material or model questions is required. We will issue our model questions 3-4 days before the exam just to make the students acquainted with the pattern and nothing else. We have already disclosed the syllabus which includes the subject list and marks for each subject.
Bar & Bench: What is the financial arrangement with the ITES?
Manan Kumar Mishra: ITES is doing this for Rs. 600 per candidate. Out of the Rs. 1,900, Rs. 600 will go to ITES, Rs. 800 to the BCI and Rs. 500 to the State Bar Councils. Everything is transparent; there is nothing to hide. Rainmaker was doing it for Rs. 900 but after several negotiations and after considering everything, we finalised it for Rs. 600 with ITES Horizon. This is in interest of the lawyers and in the interest of the BCI.
Bar & Bench: The day you were elected as BCI Chairman, you had mentioned a proposal to introduce a one year compulsory training for law graduates with advocates before joining the profession. So, what is happening in this regard?
Manan Kumar Mishra: As per the Supreme Court decision, we need to bring in certain amendments in the Advocates Act to make one year compulsory training for lawyers before joining the profession. We had a talk with the then Law Minister, Mr. Salman Khurshid and he had agreed to it. Now with the appointment of a new Law Minister, I will talk to him within a week and I think he will also agree to this. This actually requires some amendments to the Advocates Act, which is a hurdle. We had earlier introduced this system but the Supreme Court said that the BCI has no power to do this and it can only be done with certain amendments to the Act. I hope very soon we will be doing this with the help of the Law Minister.
Bar & Bench: Another proposal you mentioned was a common exam at the national level for all lawyers. What is the status of this project?
Manan Kumar Mishra: We are going to do this. We are in touch with Human Resources Department and we hope that within a year we will introduce it.
We also presume that objections will be raised by some of the law schools but we will convene a meeting of universities and law schools and then we will take a decision. I think this will take 3-4 months time.
Bar & Bench: Your views on entry of foreign law firms?
Manan Kumar Mishra: We are opposing it and we will continue to opposite it. The matter is sub judice before the Supreme Court. We have made our stand clear in the Special Leave Petition. Unless our lawyers and our law firms are allowed to practice in foreign countries without any condition, we cannot allow them to operate here.
Bar & Bench: So, the BCI is completely opposing the entry of foreign law firms?
Manan Kumar Mishra: My view is BCI’s view. The BCI is totally opposing the entry of foreign law firms. We are doing this for the benefit of the lawyers of the country. First, we need to protect the interest of our lawyers. If we allow foreign lawyers to operate without any restriction in our country then our lawyers will be in trouble. They put our lawyers to severe tests, which are very difficult to clear. If we have to allow the entry of foreign lawyers, it will be allowed only on the basis of reciprocity. But as of now we are completely opposing it.
Bar & Bench: Any plans on introducing reforms to improve the standard of legal education in India?
Manan Kumar Mishra: First, I think we should introduce a common entrance test. Second, we have decided that teachers who have obtained their LLM degree from a correspondence course or distance education will not be allowed to teach though still this matter is under consideration before the UGC. To improve the standard of legal education we are planning to train the law teachers. There is a scheme pending in this regard before the BCI and we will consider it in consultation with universities. There are several law colleges who have no infrastructure – we are in the process of closing them. In every meeting of the legal education committee, we are refusing the approval of 5 to 10 law colleges. Therefore, we are very serious about it.
Bar & Bench: Can you tell us about the constitution of the Committee for legal education?
Manan Kumar Mishra: There is a separate committee for legal education, which is headed by one retired judge of the Supreme Court and a sitting judge of a High Court. Presently Justice Kurien Joseph, the Chief Justice of Himachal Pradesh and one retired Judge of Patna High Court are members. The Attorney General, the Solicitor General of India and renowned lawyers like Mr. KK Venugopal, Mr. P.P Rao are all members of the legal education committee. The Vice Chancellors of National Law University, Delhi and National Law School of India University Bangalore are also members of the legal education committee as well as the UGC Chairman. So it’s a very rich and well-balanced community, which we have.
Bar & Bench: Around 80 legal academics from various Indian and foreign Universities had sent a Petition to the BCI alleging a complete absence of consultation by the BCI with academicians on reforms in legal education. What is your response to this Petition?
Manan Kumar Mishra: We have already replied to it. If you go through that Petition you will find that some persons want that their names to be included in this Legal Education Committee. We can’t include all these 80 or so law teachers in our Legal Education Committee. I have already told you about the constitution of our committee, and on rotation basis we are trying to accommodate as many teachers as we can but they have made comments with regard to the standard of legal education. They have tried to say that the Bar Council of India is responsible for the downfall of legal education. They are trying to create a doubt about the work undertaken by BCI with respect to legal education.
We have said that the BCI only prescribes the syllabus that too with the consultation of the universities. We lay down the norms, but in a classroom the teachers are teaching the students. So, if there is any downfall in the standard of legal education, you are directly responsible. If there is any demerit in the syllabus you have never raised any question, you have never given any suggestion that this should be the standard and this should be the norm.
They have never suggested that this should be the syllabus and this is how it should be operated. Throughout the Petition they have tried to tarnish the image of the BCI. They are people with vested interests. They don’t believe in teaching the students, they only do politics. They want themselves to be highlighted through all this politics, which we always discourage. We already have academicians as part of the Committee.
Bar & Bench: The Bar Council of India (BCI) has proposed to construct a new BCI web-portal to provide online database of law students, teachers and institutions imparting legal education in the country. How long will this take?
Manan Kumar Mishra: Yes. We are in the process of making a portal of all the law colleges and law teachers and we think that within a year this will be completed.
The web portal will help to ensure transparency while carrying out inspection of the institutions imparting legal education. It has been observed by the BCI that names of individuals have been shown as faculty in many law colleges at the same time. Furthermore there are various reports of persons practicing in different courts in India by obtaining fake degrees from institutions, which are not approved by the BCI.
Bar & Bench: Web portal fee that you are charging is huge. You have mentioned that the BCI will consider reducing the fee to be paid by law students, teachers and institutions for registering on this web portal. How much will you reduce it to?
Manan Kumar Mishra: Yes. We are going to consider it in the next meeting. It’s a genuine demand and we are going to consider it.
Bar & Bench: In June this year the BCI decided that bar licenses are to be renewed every 5 years. Has the same been implemented?
Manan Kumar Mishra: This was a very good decision by the BCI. But some of the State Bar Councils have raised strong objections to it. Thereafter, we decided to keep it in abeyance and we have written to every State Bar Council to convene and send their resolutions. Whatever will be the majority decision, we will accordingly notify it.
So, the June notification is not applicable right now.
Bar & Bench: We understand that the tussle between HRD Ministry and BCI has been settled. What are your views?
Manan Kumar Mishra: Our demands were accepted in principle by the then HRD Minister, Kapil Sibal. He made a press statement that he is not going to touch legal education at least and the Standing Committee also invited us and assured us that our demands will be met.
Bar & Bench: What do you have to say on the UGC ‘s approval of a one year LLM?
Manan Kumar Mishra: We will welcome if UGC finally decides that LLM course will be for one year only. This is actually required in the country, as we don’t have enough law teachers. Several institutions are being closed down only because they don’t have law teachers (with LLM). Therefore, if a one-year course is introduced, then it will be good for our country.
Bar & Bench: Do you receive complaints against law firms for misconduct etc.? How do you deal with them?
Manan Kumar Mishra: We do get complaints against law firms but we are still in the process of framing rules for the regulation of law firms. Mr. Lalit Bhasin of the Society of Indian Law Firms has also agreed that we should frame rules for regulating law firms. In the absence of such regulations, we cannot take any action.
Bar & Bench: How has your tenure been so far. Have you have been able to achieve your targets?
Manan Kumar Mishra: I am trying hard to achieve my goals. I want to improve the standard of legal education and legal profession. Let us see how it goes.