Overzealous, misplaced application of regulations: Delhi HC allows advocate to complete 2-year LL.M. course at DU

Overzealous, misplaced application of regulations: Delhi HC allows advocate to complete 2-year LL.M. course at DU

Ashutosh Gambhir

The Delhi High Court recently directed the University of Delhi to permit a student to continue in the two year LL.M. course even though she is enrolled as an Advocate.

The student, Padma Landol, was selected for the LL.M. course at the Delhi University but was asked to join the three-year program, instead of the two-year course that she had applied for, for the reason that she was enrolled as an Advocate.

According to the Rules of the varsity, anyone engaged in any profession, calling or trade wishing to pursue higher studies, can do so only in the three-year course LL.M. while the two-year course is restricted for full time students. Clause 8 of a 2015 Ordinance reads as follows:

8. Duration of LL.M. Course

(i) LL.M. One-year (two terms) Course This is full time…open only to LL.B. with 55% marks. The semester…of 30 contact hours per term.

(ii) LL.M. Two-Year (Four Terms) Course (LL.B. with 50% marks) This is full time course meant only for those who are not in employment or engaged in any trade, profession, business or occupation.

(iii) LL.M. Three-Year (Six Terms) Course: (LL.B. with 50% marks) This course is meant for all applicants including those who are employed or otherwise engaged in any trade,profession, business or occupation.

Initially, her writ petition against the University was dismissed by a Single Judge Bench which had held that,

“The contrast in the two courses is evident. The 2 year LL.M. course is for those persons who are not engaged in any employment, trade, profession….The rational being that a person who is not engaged in any trade, profession or business can devote not only more hours to college study but also more hours to home study….A person who is engaged in a trade, profession or employed (as is so in the present case) would have much less time to devote to his study.” 

Landol then approached the Division Bench and contended that the single judge’s decision was erroneous. Appearing for Landol, Advocates Ramesh Mishra and Rahul Dutta argued that the petitioner cannot be said to be engaged in a profession, merely because she had enrolled as a lawyer.

It was submitted that she did not join any lawyer or chamber, nor was she involved in the practice of law. For a while, she was working as an intern in the Delhi Commission for Women, but not on any formal basis.

It was further argued that being from Ladakh, she found it difficult to sustain herself in Delhi and therefore, engaged in research work for her friends practicing in the legal profession, for which she was paid sometimes. This could neither be construed as full-time or even part-time practice of the legal profession.

It was also brought to the Court’s notice that ever since Landol approached the Court, she had become the subject of harassment at the hands of the University, which had gone to the extent of issuing notices for ousting her from the women’s hostel.

Agreeing with the contentions of the petitioner, the Division Bench of Justices S Ravindra Bhat and AK Chawla observed that the nature of activity carried on by Landol appeared to be irregular, sporadic and dependent upon friends and well wishers.

“By all accounts, the appellant is not practicing in the legal profession; she appears to be maintaining herself by providing some kind of legal research assistance, and also guiding students.”

It was further observed by the Bench that even if it were to agree with the Single Judge, the end result would be that Landol would have to stop attending the course and seek admission in the three-year course. This would entail unnecessary wastage and loss of time for her, which would be highly inequitable.

The Bench held that while the University had the power to frame rules regarding its different courses, there cannot be stereotypical application of the same.

“The functional autonomy of the University no doubt entitles it to make a distinction between those practicing a profession, or employed or engaged in trade, profession or business, and those who are not. At the same time, there cannot be a stereotypical application of the rules, which ostensibly place all those not engaged in full time (or even on regular part time basis) in the legal profession, at par with those employed or engaged in trade or business.”

With regard to Landol’s ouster from the University hostel, the Court stated that such action prima facie discloses some kind of prejudice.

“The Court only hopes that this is merely overzealous, and misplaced literal application of the regulations and not anything more to suggest vindictiveness.” 

Finally, the Court set aside the judgment of the Single Judge Bench and directed the varsity to allow the petitioner to continue in the two-year course and to permit her to occupy the hostel for the duration of her course.

This is not the first time this rule has been called into question before the High Court. A couple of weeks back, an advocate who had secured 12th rank in the LL.M. admission exam had filed a writ petition challenging Clause 8 (ii) as being ultra vires Articles 14, 19 (1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution. The High Court has issued notice in that petition.

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