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The Supreme Court today passed an order asking the Bar Council of India (BCI) to reconsider its rule mandating an upper age limit for admission to law courses.
After hearing the matter today, the Bench of Justices SA Bobde and Sanjay Kishan Kaul observed that there is no age to acquire education. Justice Kaul observed that since children from economically weaker sections of society may not have a linear education, they would be disadvantaged by the age limit rule.
The order passed by the Bench urges the BCI to reconsider Clause 28 of the Rules on Standards of Legal Education.
“We consider it appropriate in the interest of justice to permit the Bar Council of India to reconsider the age limit after hearing the various stakeholders, including the petitioner.”
The direction was made in a petition filed in 2016 by two aspiring law students, Rishabh Duggal and Rishabh Arora. They had challenged the BCI’s age limit rule as being unconstitutional and ultra vires various provisions of the Advocates Act, 1961.
In 2008, the BCI had introduced the Rules on Standards of Legal Education framed under the Advocates Act of 1961. Clause 28 in the Schedule III of the Rules sought to impose an age cap for prospective law students. The maximum age limit for joining the Bachelor’s law course was set at twenty years for general category students and twenty-two for SC/ST/OBC students. Similarly, for the post-graduate course, the limit was thirty years for general category and thirty-five for reserved categories.
After a slew of petitions in different high courts challenging Clause 28, the BCI formed a one-man committee of advocate S Prabhakaran to peruse the validity of the provision. The same committee found that the clause fell afoul of Article 14 of the Constitution and recommended its deletion. Subsequently, the BCI passed a notification on September 28, 2013, withdrawing Clause 28.
This matter was then exhumed by B Ashok, an advocate of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. In his writ petition, he prayed that the BCI notification withdrawing Clause 28 be quashed as it was in contravention of the amendment procedure under the Advocates Act. A Division Bench of the High Court allowed the petition.
The BCI then challenged the decision before the Supreme Court of India; however, a Bench of JS Khehar and Rohinton Fali Nariman JJ. upheld the Madras High Court verdict in December 2015. In effect, the clause stood valid.
Subsequently, the High Courts of Bombay and Punjab & Haryana had struck down the rule, citing the legislative incompetence of the BCI to introduce such a rule.
Despite this, the rule still stood. However, as the petition notes, several high courts have allowed petitioners who had crossed the age limit to appear for entrance exams including the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT).
Attempts have been made in previous editions of CLAT – for instance, the 2017 edition – to impose the age limit prescribed by Clause 28.
In March 2017, while hearing this petition, the Supreme Court had stayed the operation of Clause 28.
And now, the Supreme Court has directed the BCI to reconsider the rule.
Advocate Zoheb Hossain appeared for the petitioners.
The matter is listed for the first week of April.
Read the order: