The Draft National Education Policy takes us one step forward but two steps back as its recommendations do not bear any potential to bring lasting reform to legal education in India
The long-awaited draft of the National Education Policy addresses educational grievances in different levels of education in India. The draft aims at increasing quality of education in India, from the primary to the post graduate level across different fields. However, the draft policy falls short of revitalizing and reinvigorating legal education in India.
The first National Education Policy was brought out by the Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1968, with the subsequent National Education Policy brought by her successor Rajiv Gandhi in 1986. After 26 years, the K. Kasturiranjan committee was constituted under the Ministry of Human Resource Development (MHRD). It published its report on May 31, 2019. The committee has acknowledged late Professor Madhav Menon and his contribution to the development of the draft for legal education reforms. In Part 16.7, the reforms regarding legal education are discussed. The introduction envisages consistency with the constitutional values listed the Preamble: celebration of democracy, protection of our basic politic-socio-economic rights and securing justice to all classes of people.
The policy recognizes the need for better standards of teaching. These better standards will help Indian lawyers compete at international forums such as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the International Criminal Court (ICC), and other various tribunals established under international law. The policy urges embracing new technologies to improve delivery of justice in India. This will help produce multiskilled lawyers from legal institutions. Unfortunately, the actual text of the Draft policy is not a reflection of the above thought.
To summarize both, firstly, the policy entails looking into the social structures of the past. Importing ideas of judicial thinking, culture and Dharma-Adharma would seemingly give the students social relevance and acceptability within society. Secondly, legal educational institutions should consider offering legal education in vernacular language of the State in which the law program is situate. The institutes must facilitate the procurement of translated versions of books, sourcing teachers of law and allow students to write the exam in the vernacular language.
Scholars across the world are undecided as to the meaning of the word ‘Dharma’. The meaning of the word depends on the context and the point of time of reference. The definition has evolved with the transformation of religion in India. While great academicians have been unable to come up with a concrete definition to dharma, a teaching methodology based on Dharma-Adharma seems meaningless. Looking into the ‘classical law texts’ and their understandings of law of that period, it is clear that moral rights and wrongs of the society change drastically with time. Since law is believed to be an embodiment of the morals of the society of the time, created by a sovereign with the authority to do so, the knowledge of the past outdates the needs of the contemporary society.
Further, the ideals of society in the past are not a true reflection of the progressive nature of society that the framers of the Indian Constitution strived for. The Parliament is free to make law to bring in social change relevant to society. From a social perspective, while the societies of the past ostracized persons of the third gender, the laws of today reflecting changes in modern societies, are about making persons of third gender equal members of society. The same can be said for rights of SC/STs, minority religion groups and women. Students of legal institutions have played a pivotal role in being the harbingers of such progressive changes. Whether the ideas of the past and their incorporation in modern day legal curriculum would find acceptability in the minds of students, seems dubious.
With legal education transitioning into a confluence of western and eastern thought, students must be prepared for transilience arising out of progressive transformations in society. Instead of studying and analyzing historical values and morals of any society, the ‘ideal’ educational curriculum must require them to develop skills to bring about change and stay abreast of modern transformations. Globalization is bringing the world closer than ever before. This closeness leads to reduction in differences. With this foresight, it will allow Indian law students to have authority in the legal field, a field largely dominated by the western legal analysts. At the same time, law students may refer to the classical texts to supplement their understanding of issues of race, caste, religion and gender that continue to exist in society. Analysis of the societal values of the past is only worthwhile to study the culture of past Indian civilizations to allow for more progressive reforms.
Also, the recommendation of teaching legal subjects in vernacular languages is well intended but ill thought. Coming together of students from different backgrounds allows for them become forums of exchange of ideas, knowledge and experience. English allows them to have a common language to express and exchange ideas. It also happens to be the lingua franca of the legal world. Being well versed with the English language is important for any lawyer in India and abroad. The Supreme Court of India, the various High Courts, the tribunals as well as the corporate sector primarily conduct business in English. Clearly, the idea behind increasing fluency in vernacular languages is to increase the outreach of law and justice to all. Language should not be a barrier.
Instead, the author proposes creating a mandatory six months or one-year internship at District, or State legal aid centers. This is similar to the compulsory internships for medical students at government hospitals. These internships could be supplemented with a language training course to increase accessibility to the local population. Learning the law in English to understand all the principles and ideas of law and then being able to translate it to the vernacular language to communicate with and help local residents is far more useful than translating volumes of legal education into vernacular languages.
Incorporation of the above recommendation serves a two point purpose; First, at the time of graduation, the students will be well versed with English to carry out academic research, criticize and analyze western thought while developing ideas for to fit the Indian context. At the same time, assisting at the local legal aid centers will help them learn and apply the law in vernacular languages while increasing access to free legal aid as per the Constitution of India. Second, it will ensure that legal aid centers have trained and active legal minds contributing to the aim of providing quality legal aid.
While the Draft policy seems thoughtful, it seems to have missed the real reforms needed in legal education. There is absence of any discussion on whether teachers of the law may be allowed to practice in light of giving more practical insight to students of the working of the courts. Internships form a major part of the education of law students. Students pay large amounts of money to stay away from their homes during vacation in cities such as Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai to work under lawyers and law firms to learn. The expenses incurred include rent, transportation, food, medical expenses and other daily expenses. These law firms and lawyers extract free labor by glamourizing internship certificates. However, the internships provide little to no remuneration to cover the costs. The internship trend is such that it is inclusive of an honor for any law student to work at a law firm or for senior lawyers for free, while they are the ones primarily engaged in research and drafting. These two activities require maximum time devotion. There have been no recommendations to the MHRD to direct payment of stipend to interns by employers, who spend day and night researching and drafting to learn the requisite skills. These important aspects have been completely ignored in the draft.
Over all, the Draft National Education Policy is a weak attempt towards reforming the legal education in India. With the institution of the National Law Universities, the ‘schools of law’ meant to compete with the western law schools, it is disheartening to note the lack of attention paid to these devoted sites of social, economic and political progression for India. Further, the rise of the corporate law firm work culture has only induced more and more students to opt for law over traditional fields of medicine and engineering. While laying down well researched reforms in the field of medical and engineering education, the reforms of legal education seem hollow, like an afterthought. While we wish for the law and the courts to be dynamic, it is imperative that the future lawyers of the country are prepared to adopt such a dynamicity. Looking back into the past must only be for the purpose of learning from it and rectifying the mistakes. The legal curriculum of India has an implied duty to produce lawyers who can become social reformers of the twenty first century. This is the only way we can truly pay homage to Professor N.R. Madhav Menon and his legacy.
The author is a B.A.LLB (Hons.) student at the West Bengal National University of Juridical Sciences (WBNUJS)
Image Credits – The Logical Indian