Legal education would have little meaning unless the process of learning is carried out in a clinical mode and in a comparative manner. The students learn by observing how law is practiced. Such a skill can be imbibed during the process of internship and by participating in moots, mock trials and legal aid camps. Legal writing has to be a compulsory component.
Internships can be carried out at diverse places affording scope for practice and application of law. An academic excursion appears as one such option. It offers an innovative scope to observe and facilitate an exposure to legal system, framework and procedures of different jurisdictions. It stimulates an analytical and critical evaluation of different examples and situations.
Eleven students studying for their law degree in Delhi recently took part in an academic excursion to Singapore.The entire exercise was undertaken by Lex Consilium, consultants in the field of legal education.The schedule of the visit was planned to coincide with the vacation between the Christmas and the New Year to avoid any absence from law classes and studies. The group of six girls and five boys were selected after proper screening of their academic attainment, discipline and other relevant attributes like communication skills and an interest in international Law.
Having regard to the limited number of days available, the itinerary planned was a suitable mix of the ‘academic’ and `excursion’ components of the trip.
The date wise narration of the actual daily events is summarized below to indicate how the excursion actually progressed.
27th December, 2016 :
Law Society of Singapore
This is a regulatory body akin to the Bar Council of India.This was the first item of the excursion schedule.The students were particular to punctually reach the venue dressed in formal attire.This practice was repeated at other places too. The programme entailed presentations by three officials of the law society.
The opening session was taken by Lim Tanguy, Director Pro Bono Services. A fluent and convincing speaker, he was able to clearly articulate the expectations of the community from law professionals and their response within the constraints of time and resources. The next to take the floor was K.Gopalan, Director, Conduct, Representation and Law Reform. He is responsible for matters relating to enforcement and ethics. In a transparent and lucid manner, he took time to answer the queries also covering the regulatory part, equivalent of the disciplinary proceedings for the professional misconduct under the Bar Council of India Rules.
After a working lunch, the students walked back to the Law Society for the afternoon session. They were guided by a smart intern (studying for her law degree in London) to the State Courts. The latter are what we call trial courts in India. Mr Gopinath Pillai, Director Criminal Legal Aid Scheme, took up the briefing. He took the group to the place of actual conduct of Pre-Trial chambers procedure. The scene witnessed an accused, lodged in a prison far away, visible on a screen. The bail procedure was in progress.The Defense counsel expressed difficulty to the court in arranging the amount indicated to secure the bail.The court was sympathetic and reasonable.The group was thereafter led to a different court room on the floor above to observe examination of a witness in another matter.The rules and procedure are similar to those existing in India. However, the main difference is in orderly conduct, due adherence and total cutting down of delay.
The Law Society has been allotted space to make their legal aid services available to the entitled persons. The factual details are carefully noted down to ascertain need and scope of legal help.
No camera or photography was allowed in the court.
Coming to some figures,
About 40% marriages in Singapore end up in divorce;
Not more than 500 law graduates are allowed to enter litigation annually;
After getting a law degree, the students have to carry out a compulsory training under the advocates.
28th December, 2016:
Supreme Court of Singapore
First item for the day was a visit to the Supreme Court; suitable preliminary arrangements had been made to secure an articulate guide, a Sikh advocate whose forefathers had migrated from India. He practices maritime law and also doubles as a guide.
The Court building is imposing and towers over all surrounding structures. It has a common entrance for judges, advocates and all others except the accused. The latter are facilitated entry directly to the Court from its basement. The guide took us to the visitors’ gallery to give an extensive and absorbing briefing. He kept the students on the alert and posed many questions – Ever thought why lawyers and judges wear black and white? Why are there no windows in court-rooms? Why judges wore wigs in earlier days? How caning is administered to the offenders and not to the females? What day of the week is earmarked for hanging?
He asked the questions and provided convincing answers as well. He led the students to a training chamber which is equipped to train lawyers and judges in an interactive IT mode. The facility is meant to help the advocates and the judges to brush-up their knowledge of statutory and procedural laws. Our students were quick to play the roles at such a training model. The group was next allowed entry to a court-room where an African female was being tried on a charge for carrying drugs. The offender was duly arraigned. She pleaded guilty. The judge personally explained to her the implication of a matter where the person under trial pleads guilty to the charge.The minimum sentence prescribed is 20 years’ rigorous imprisonment. She had no escape from that.There was one consolation for her. Because of her sex, she got away from 25 lashes!
The group had already been cautioned that no photography was permitted within the court premises, they had to contend themselves by taking pictures of the buildings.
TATA Sons Office
Next the students moved to the office of Tata Sons Singapore. It has just shifted to its new premises at 78 Shenton Way. A well laid out and functional office. The visitors were welcomed by Ms Virginia, an alert and smart executive and led to the conference room.
Then they got the benefit of a very useful and professionally rewarding talk by KV Rao, the Resident Director. He mesmerized the students by the depth of his knowledge and practical approach. He handled some very incisive queries from the law students. Mr. Varun Mehta, Regional Head ASEAN was next to take the mike. He too, appeared courteous and well informed to give the best advice to the law students to plan for an entry to multi-jurisdictional corporate locations.
Each student was presented a copy of a book on Jamsetji Tata by Frank Harris. On our part the first move had been made by giving them both a copy of a book by Mahatma Gandhi. Also one on Legends of Law for their library.
29th December, 2016:
The students boarded the bus to reach the front entrance to the Parliament building. It offered them free access to take pictures. The entry to the Parliament is regulated by stringent security checks.The group was properly received and given a fully guided visit to the Parliament. Suitable arrangements had been made to accord the benefit of an elaborate briefing by Siow Peng Han, Dy Clerk of the Singapore Parliament, one of the senior most officers. He himself led the group to the visitors gallery and gave a detailed presentation.He answered the queries. Being thoroughly familiar with the composition, role and procedure of the Lok Sabha, he was able to draw suitable parallels and also indicate dissimilarities where needed.
A lot can be learnt from the system of governance followed by Singapore. It provides for a uni-cameral Legislature. The system of government, functioning of Parliament, place of religion, education and so on, there’s a lot to learn. Rather than opposition members, they are called non-government members.
The reception area has a counter for sale of specially designed items like pens, bookmarks, stationary items and picture frames, etc. Bought a few memorabilia. That brought an end to the ‘academic’ part of our trip.
Such excursions are likely to become more common in the coming years having regard to the interest generated and space occupied in social media. The cost involved may not see this alternative being taken up by a majority. However, the students who can afford the expenses will definitely stand to gain from a visit to different destinations.