Law Minister announces vision for legal education reforms
The following vision statement was delivered by the Law Minister, Veerappa Moily during the course of the second day at the Conference of National Consultation for Second Generation Reforms in Legal Education, held at the Vigyan Bhavan in New Delhi on 1 and 2 May, 2010.
The focus of legal reform has historically been limited to improving infrastructure for the judiciary but the one aspect that has been ignored is the lawyer – the most basic pillar of the judicial system. At the onset we must ask ourselves two fundamental questions – what is the true state of the current system that we are trying to reform and what is the goal we are striving to achieve?
The process of reform begins with assessing the country’s needs that the legal profession seeks to fulfil – among others the requirements across the various levels of the judiciary; the gaps in the criminal justice system; the specific areas within the law which will require an increased number of practitioners in the near future. Our approach for reform has to be guided by a thorough and detailed understanding of the current shortcomings and the future needs of the system – it is only then can we define what our practitioners of law should be.
Reform cannot be limited to an infrastructural challenge of building more courts, increasing the number of judges, providing computers and solving corporate cases efficiently. It must entail a fundamental transformation of the mindset with which we view each of our roles and responsibilities as a part of the overall legal system. Our system of education must identify and cater to various special interests within the professional legal sphere – only then will our needs be matched with the requisite skill set.
The Indian lawyer must not only have improved legal skills but most importantly, embody social responsibility and a strong professional ethic – a commitment to the integrity and working of the legal system.
Years of legal education and continuing professional development must create, above all, a socially sensitive lawyer of conscience –for whom justice delayed is not just inefficiency or a commercial opportunity but a blemish on one’s professional persona, a failure of a system of which one is an integral part. Every legal practitioner must be cognizant of the responsibilities that come with being admitted to practise and with each appointment and level of office.
The philosophy of the rule of law stands on the shoulders of lawyers – the link between the citizen and the system of justice. If this vital link were to fail our system of justice would grind to a halt in spite of every other measure of reform.
Our vision today starts with a long hard look at what we are and what we want to be. As reformers we will be conscious that each measure of reform must generate a professional that lives up to the vision of justice contemplated in our Constitution. There will be no compromise even if it means that as a body of professionals we will be called upon to make sacrifices or reengineer the way we conduct ourselves. As standard bearers of justice it is a heavy burden from the day a legal practitioner earns the privilege to be called an officer of the court.
The first generation of reforms established the National Law Schools and demonstrated that India too can have institutions that impart an affordable and world class legal education. The second generation of reforms shall focus on the three pillars of
EXPANSION, INCLUSION & EXCELLENCE.
These reforms shall be an investment in the Indian lawyer and in the Indian student of law.
EXPANSION will focus on a multi disciplinary approach encouraged across the board to enable more students to access affordable and quality legal education. An efficient justice system plays a vital role in our economic development – reducing pendencies alone can add about 2% to our GDP – and it is our legal education system that will provide the manpower to fuel this required efficiency.
· Establish four national level institutions at the regional level as Centres of Excellence focussed on research and upgradation of faculty skills – these may be called Institutes of Advanced Legal Studies & Research
· There will be a National Law University established in every state as a school of excellence
· Each of the 913 existing law schools to be evaluated by an empowered committee and classified as per standards and needs for the purpose of upgrading such colleges and creating and providing opportunities to the students
· PPP model for law schools with specialised focus to be encouraged
· Autonomous colleges that will meet demanding accreditation standards to be encouraged
· Continuing learning centres to be established in collaboration with the Bar Council’s Directorate of Legal Education
INCLUSION will focus on creating a system by which a first generation lawyer from a backward and poverty stricken class can rub shoulders with the best of the best at the national level:
· Establish a National Law Library that can also be accessed by all citizens online. Law libraries will also be established in every district of the country. The Ministry will establish an online legal e-learning network where citizens can access lectures and classes on legal subjects in real-time
· To create an overall framework of inclusive participation in opportunities, including internships in courts and like bodies for students and legal professionals, so that there is upward mobility for every legal professional to be able to access professional opportunities at the High Courts and Supreme Court
· Scholarships and fellowships to be made available for women and students from economically and socially weaker sections in order for them to access various opportunities for a legal education and a professional career
EXCELLENCE will focus on identifying and nurturing talent by providing every opportunity to every individual wishing to be a student of law:
· An opportunity for students to specialize in various aspects of the law during their education itself in order to create a pool of talent based on domain expertise and core competence
· A continuous focus on social responsibility and a strong professional ethic during every step of the educational process – every practitioner should have an unfailing commitment to the integrity and working of the legal system – reinvigorate the oversight mechanism for professional misconduct in order for it to take swift action, including debarring those that violate professional ethics and standards
· An online continuous career development and monitoring program to be established founded on a national database of all legal practitioners in the country – this will be a robust tracking system by which talent can be identified and lauded. The database will track domain expertise and professional development for lawyers and will publicly recognize excellence as well as detect inefficiencies – this system will be the basis for identifying lawyers for various roles and appointments including law officers and judges
· The Indian Law Institute to refocus on its core mission to promote research in law as well as conduct post graduate specialist courses in various fields of law by recruiting faculty of global standard
· The Delivery of Justice and Law Reform Trust of India in collaboration with the bar, the bench and leading business schools in India will develop courses for court administrators and managers
· We will develop a system to create a cadre of paralegals in various sectors of legal practise who may then serve as legal secretaries and strengthen legal aid and literacy programs
A comprehensive strategy that encapsulates both “Top to Bottom” and “Bottom to Top” approaches will see lawyers at all levels participating in continuing legal education programs. We will demonstrate that the Indian legal and justice system is efficient, responsive, globally competitive, quick and orderly with judges and lawyers who can rise up to global challenges and the future needs of the country.
Our agenda for reform is bold, innovative and a paradigm shift, reorienting our system towards creating legal professionals that can meet the future challenges not only for India but the world.
The autonomy of Universities including law schools is the foundation for higher education reform – this is the key message of the Yashpal Report on Higher Education. Competitive excellence cannot be compromised and the Universities shall have autonomy in deciding the content, method and scope of legal education.
What the Government, the Bar, the Judiciary, industry or civil society expect from those trained in the law will be outlined – what to teach and how to teach, will largely be left to Universities to decide. The key to re-structuring the curriculum will be an open and continuous dialogue between educational institutions, academics, practitioners and those accessing legal services.
The reform agenda shall also explore strategies to adequately address the criticism that graduates from the National Law Schools are migrating to the corporate sector and the practicing profession and subordinate judiciary are not being benefited from the investment in these schools.
The genuine grievance that the vast majority of the rural poor are not provided legal services appropriate to their needs and requirements shall be addressed. It is a fact that the law curriculum is focused on urban and corporate law practice – we shall respond to the unmet legal needs of the deprived sections of Indian humanity including tribals, Dalits, women, children and the disabled. The law curriculum shall reflect the pressing need for more mediators, conciliators and arbitrators to negotiate challenges to equal justice for all.
An alternate programme for rural lawyering and public interest lawyering will be instituted to ensure that Access to Justice is a right guaranteed equally to the rural poor, who seem to be outside the formal system today.
We shall further address the current challenges our legal system faces today with a reform process that focuses on the following:
Access to quality legal education: The immediate need is capacity building while ensuring a uniform standard of basic legal education in the country. We also need to institute standard minimum criteria for admission to legal education programs. The system of designing the curriculum will include a mix of core and optional courses. Students in law programs will be equipped with relevant theoretical and practical skills to deal with the diverse and expanding world of law and legal practice. There shall be a strong multidisciplinary approach to law with an emphasis on quality multidisciplinary higher education such as LLM and PhD degree programs. The flexibility and duration of programs both at the undergraduate and graduate level will ensure that an education in law is accessible to people from diverse professional backgrounds. There shall be a standard of quality in law colleges – in selection of teachers and entry of students, a professional exam before people become lawyers, mandatory training in trial courts and high courts, objective examination and transparent marking.
Attracting quality faculty: The backbone of a good legal education lies in the quality and manner in which legal knowledge is imparted to students of law- a high quality faculty is imperative to this. In order to develop, attract and retain a pool of quality faculty we will improve service conditions and remuneration while permitting salary differentials within and between universities and law schools. Faculty shall be permitted to be recognised as legal practitioners and consultants and practitioners of standard should in turn be recognised as faculty even without having passed the NET exam or having obtained an LLM degree. Permitting part time faculty and encouraging legal academics from abroad coupled with technology will enable us to efficiently disseminate knowledge across the country. The widespread use of video conferencing for faculty lectures, the availability of computers, the internet and networking of information is vital.
Responding to government and corporate sectors and global trade and economy: With changes in a country’s stage of development come new challenges, which have to be met via a reform process. The legal profession must rise to the new opportunities that come about as a result of India moving to take her rightful place among the leading nations of the world – for example, the Civil Nuclear Co-operation Treaty of 2008 will result in challenges in the field of nuclear law which will have to be met via specialists in the field. Our education system must be flexible enough to be able to predict and cater to such medium and long-term needs on a timely basis. The government and the bar shall regularly identify areas of law that must become a priority focus. A National Oversight Mechanism at the central level will be established to review and update curriculum at a minimum of every three years.
Establishing a global standard research tradition: India needs to be proactive in advancing ideas in the world of law. Thought leadership must originate in our law schools and universities and from our law students, faculty and practitioners. We need to develop a serious research tradition that is globally competitive. We will establish four institutions as centres for Advanced Legal Studies & Research to do just this. Teaching research methodology must be an integral part of the law program and globally peer reviewed research output must be prescribed as one of the criteria for the promotion of faculty. These institutions will have the autonomy in order to be able to function as pioneers in legal research and teaching, acting as acolytes for society, the executive and legislature in shaping the way for future legal reform. These institutions will develop and conduct continuous learning programs for legal practitioners, judges, judicial officers, bureaucrats, administrators, parliamentarians and the private sector.
Introducing continuing professional legal education: We need to foster a culture of sustained law training that meets the needs of the different sectors of the economy and society. Students of law should able to access a program to continuously upgrade their knowledge throughout their careers. Continuous learning requirements for legal practitioners, judges, judicial officers, bureaucrats, academics must be made compulsory. Modules of advocacy are to be made available along with mandatory and supportive English language training, brief writing and computer application training for all lawyers across the country.
In order to best design and implement a world class continuing legal education (CLE) system we will make a thorough and detailed study of global best practices in this field. We know that the United States requires that lawyers participate in continuing legal education in order to maintain their ability to practice law after initial admission to the bar. Certain mandatory or minimum CLE criteria also exist in Canada, the UK, and many European countries. Classroom materials must be extensive and represent the most current and advanced thinking available on a particular legal subject – special topics should include ethics, professional responsibility, prevention of malpractice and other issues. We shall explore the need to appropriately adopt similar methods to ensure continuing professional excellence.
THE WAY FORWARD
To quote Neil Gold:
“The legal educator of today often lacks the depth and breadth of understanding necessary for this transformed curriculum and scholarship. Many will find the prospects of “retooling” daunting indeed. While not all will need to change markedly, some will be called upon to move boldly in new directions.”
The path forward envisions that legal practitioners deliver socio-economic justice founded on high quality legal education and to cater to the needs of the present and the future. The Ministry of Law and Justice is committed to ensuring that there is a wide consultative process among all stakeholders to develop a modern, relevant, socially compatible curriculum of legal education.
We will develop a framework to identify and nurture talent and create an even playing field with equal access to opportunity for all, whatever their backgrounds. Domain expertise shall be utilized and judges and leaders of the bar shall be encouraged to teach students and mentor junior members of the judiciary and the bar during court vacations.
We shall systematically develop a talent pool of legal professionals where privilege is not limited to a few – the era of Ad Hoc ism is over and mediocrity must be replaced by excellence across all spheres in the field of law and its practice.
TOGETHER WE WILL GUARANTEE A LEGAL EDUCATION SYSTEM OF GLOBAL STANDARDS AND BE A LEADER IN THE GLOBAL LEGAL INDUSTRY- THIS IS OUR FAITH, OUR BELIEF AND OUR VISION TODAY.