Ghost of Age Limit in Law Courses comes Alive Again

With the Bar Council of India (BCI) on September 17, 2016 issuing a circular letter regarding revival of age restriction under clause 28 of the Legal Education Rules, 2008 (earlier withdrawn in September 2013), the conundrum with respect to prescription of maximum age limit for admission to law courses in our country has once again re-surfaced. The reasoning being offered by the BCI for reiterating this diktat stems from the fact that the Supreme Court of India in December 2015 had dismissed the Special Leave Petition (SLP) preferred by the BCI against the judgment of the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court which in August 2015 ruled that clause 28 under Schedule III to Rule 11 of the Rules of Legal Education, 2008, has been amended (read withdrawn) without following the provisions of the Act and the Rules made thereunder. Be that as it may, with due respect and utmost regard to the decision of the Madras High Court, the writer would like to argue that when the Supreme Court has not thoroughly adjudicated the issue at hand, sans any authoritative pronouncement, can the former’s judgment be said to have attained finality in the real sense although it might be so legally? Although one may very well understand that post-Apex Court interference, there was no other option before the BCI but to restore age limit criteria, one indeed wonders why the circular in this regard has been issued more than nine months after the refusal of the Supreme Court to intervene in the matter?  Also the most significant point is when the Madras High Court has only questioned the procedural impropriety committed by the BCI in amending/withdrawing the ibid Rule prescribing the age-limit, what is preventing the BCI from doing the needful again albeit after following the appropriate procedure?  Further, the admission procedure in all National Law Schools, law institutes/colleges as well as law departments of all universities across the country is already over and the impact of the latest order would certainly be now prospective i.e. from the next academic session and that too provided this latest directive does not get judicially stayed during the course of any inevitable legal proceedings presumably in the Supreme Court by those potential aspirants who are aggrieved by the latest development since they would be disqualified for seeking admission to law-courses owing to their being either over-age or else crossing the upper-age limit before the next session. Here the writer would like to recall that in early-2015, just a couple of months before the then scheduled Common Law Admission Test (CLAT)-2015, none less than two High Courts of the country had questioned the competence of the participating universities in prescribing the maximum age-limit in respect of their integrated Bachelor of Law degree programme (Five-years’ course) particularly as the BCI itself does not mandate any such condition. While strongly deprecating this aspect, both the Courts, firstly the Allahabad High Court and later the Rajasthan High Court permitted all those who had crossed the maximum age limit as prescribed to duly apply and appear in the then forthcoming CLAT albeit subject to their satisfying other conditions of eligibility. Of late,  we have witnessed many instances when the BCI’s well-intentional initiatives aimed at improving the quality of  both the Bar and the legal education  have been quashed by the Supreme Court for want of due amendments in the Advocates Act, 1961. Be it in case of BCI Training Rules, 1995 or else prescribing maximum age limit for enrolment of new Advocates, the Apex Court had quashed them for lack of BCI’s power to do so in the absence of appropriate provisions in the Act.   Even the concept of All India Bar Examination (AIBE) is currently sub judice before the Supreme Court. Most recently, the BCI’s Verification Rules as framed by it in January 2015 have again stuck in their due enforcement courtesy the August 2016 order of the Apex Court. There is no second opinion that the BCI’s rule-making power cannot override the explicit provisions of the Advocates Act. Amidst all this, the need of the hour is suitable re-appraisal coupled with, preferably, re-enacting our over half-a- century old Advocates Act in terms of contemporary needs and challenges. With no serious initiative been taken hitherto in this regard by successive ruling dispensations, it is highly hoped that the incumbent Union  Law Minister, Ravi Shankar  Prasad would endeavour to kickstart the process at the earliest.

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