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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said a “dramatic reform” was necessary in legal education system to make law fraternity sensitive to the needs of the marginalised sections.
“If we are to have a society where the common man gets speedy and affordable access to justice, if we are to have the rule of law in our country, if we are to have an economic environment where contracts are easily enforceable, we must ensure that our law teachers, practising advocates, corporate lawyers, legal advisors, judicial officers and legal facilitators are of a very high standard,” he said.
“This is possible only if there is dramatic reform and improvement in the scope and quality of legal education system,” he said inaugurating a National Consultation for Second Generation Reforms in Legal Education.
He said there was a need to have a legal education system “sensitive to the needs of the marginalised sections”. Not only should these sections be adequately represented among law students, legal education imparted should inculcate sensitivity towards the special needs of the under privileged like women, SCs and STs.
Recalling the words of late President S Radhakrishnan that the country’s law colleges did not hold a place of high esteem either at home or abroad, Singh said, “As we introspect honestly, we must sadly accept that Dr. Radhakrisnan’s powerful yet poignant words may not be amenable to any radical restatement even today.”
Pointing out the shortcomings of legal education, he said, “The sad reality is that when we look for experts to head new law schools and new faculties, we have precious few to choose from.”
He said there was a need to provide more uniform, but calibrated and better salaries, accompanied by considerably improved terms of service.
Noting that law libraries were too few and woefully stocked, he said latest tools of research should be provided to students, scholars and practitioners. “Law schools should be linked with the best sources of knowledge globally,” he said.
Dr. Singh said internship and post-degree placements should be regulated to match applicants and recipients appropriately.
“Today, some fortunate students who have the right contacts have the luxury of plenty in terms of options while several of their talented but less resourceful colleagues go a-begging for placements,” he added.
Dr. Singh said experienced and established lawyers and judges should attend periodic and continuing education programmes without standing on pomp or seniority. “After all, this is a common practice in other countries,” he said.
The Prime Minister said opening of trade and capital markets as a result of globalisation and retreat of the state from some of its traditional roles had raised new legal issues concerning the ways in which the poor and marginalised sections could protect themselves from adverse effects of these changes.
“The very nature of law, legal institutions and law practice are in the throes of a paradigm shift. One of the most challenging tasks in legal education in India is to strike a proper balance to ensure that students are taught a fair mix of courses that give them knowledge and training in Indian law, but at the same time prepare them for facing the challenges of globalisation, where domestic legal mechanisms interact with both international and foreign legal systems,” he said.
Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily unveiled a vision statement that called for “an inclusive philosophy” to guide legal reforms.
Mr. Moily said second generation reforms would focus on “expansion, inclusion, and excellence” in legal education.
Expansion, Mr. Moily said, would focus on a multi— disciplinary approach encouraged across the board to enable more students to access affordable and quality legal education, establishing four national institutions as centres of excellence and a
Inclusion would mean creating systems by which a first generation lawyer from backward and poverty stricken class could rub shoulders with the best at the national level.
For that, national law library would be established online with centres at the district level to provide learning opportunities, creating overall framework of inclusive participation and opportunities, including internships in courts, apart from scholarships and fellowships.
Excellence, Mr. Moily said, would focus on identifying and nurturing talent by providing every opportunity to every individual wishing to be a student of law for specialisation and continuous career development programmes.
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“We need to strive for bringing about uniformity of standards in legal education and transparency in recruitment of teachers and admissions,” he said.
Critical of politics in education, Balakrishnan said political activity and environment in law colleges forced education to take a back seat. He also proposed a mandatory exam for being admitted to the Bar.