NEW EDUCATION POLICY 2020 AND LEGAL EDUCATION
By: Prof. (Dr.) Anil G. Variath* |
The New Education Policy, 2020 as approved by the Union Government is a highly ambitious document aiming at sweeping reforms in education system in India. The most striking feature is the deviation from the time old 10 + 2 system to a 5+3+3+4 system, which includes 12 years of schooling and three years of pre-schooling. The new policy which focuses on easier Board examinations and experiential learning and promoting critical thinking in the framework of a reduced curriculum would be a game changer at the school level. However, when it comes to higher and professional education, it falls far short of expectation. The proposal that all universities and institutions of higher education shall become multidisciplinary and to phase out all institutions offering single stream courses sound hollow. It is a decision taken without meaningful consultation with stake holders and experts.
The policy has an unprofessional approach to the problems and issues related to Professional Education, especially the legal education. There is only a few passing remarks with respect to the legal education in the policy. It vaguely mandates that legal education needs to be competitive globally, adopting best practices and embracing new technologies for wider access to timely delivery of justice. The policy doesn’t have anything new in the reflections of constitutional values of justice, rule of law and further changes stated about legal education. It clearly shows the policy makers have not taken the pain to discuss with legal academia or the regulators of legal education in India to understand its present position.
The only thing worth attention is the proposal that state run institutions offering law education must consider offering bilingual education for future lawyers and Judges- in English and in the language of the state in which the institution is situated. This is a long-time demand and makes a little sense considering the requirement of the profession and also to spread justice at the grass root level. As the lion share of deposition by the witnesses in the trial court takes place in the regional language and most of the documents produced as evidence in trial are also in the regional language, it would be advisable to use the regional language in the court proceedings. Even now, such practice is carried out in many states except the southern states. Imparting bilingual law education would supplement this purpose.
Another point of concern is the suggestion that the stand alone Universities like Agriculture and Law Universities shall diversify and shall become multidisciplinary in nature. Specialized Universities are established with certain objectives to be achieved in the respective fields of education. The National Law Universities were established at the time when the Indian economy was opening up to global investments, which necessitated a new practicing culture in the legal profession. The needs of the growing economy were vibrant and it called for large scale reforms in the field of our Commercial laws and Intellectual Property law regime. The expectations of the new entrepreneurs from the legal profession were diverse and could not be met by the traditional law practitioners. Therefore, it was required to break the traditional legal education for the purpose of creating a class of lawyers who would cater the needs of the changing economy. This was one of the major reasons for establishing National Law Universities. Similar institutions also exist in the field of Sciences, Engineering and Technology, Medicine, Management and so on. To phase out such institutions, which has a particular way to approach specialized discipline, could never be a wise step.
It is advisable for such Universities to offer multidisciplinary courses having relevance to the core subjects. Offering multidisciplinary courses just for the sake of diversification would only negate the very whole purpose of establishing such institutions. For example, the Agriculture Universities can offer courses in Agriculture technology, Agricultural Economics, Agro Marketing, Agricultural management, rural development etc. Similarly Law Universities can offer courses in Law and Economics, Law and Constitutional Governance, Public Policy, Environmental Studies, International Relations, Corporate Management etc. There is no meaning in specialized universities offering general B.SC, BA or B.Com programs, for e.g. a Law University offering a course on medicine or an Agriculture University offering a course on Accountancy.
The issue of concern is something different. Going by the past experiences in India and the way the regulators respond to legal education; there is a chance that the regular Arts and Sciences Colleges may establish Departments of Law and start imparting LL.B courses. This would throw the Bar Council regulations, which are at least there on papers today, to winds and further degenerate the legal education. The professional education needs a comprehensive and different approach which the new policy has missed. The legal education is already suffocating with a number of regulators playing diverse roles. The Bar Council, the Governments, University Grants Commission, the affiliating Universities are the major regulators now. The policy is silent with respect to role and position of these regulators.
Most striking feature of our legal education system is that the most important stake holders, i.e. the students and the law teachers have no role in regulating legal education. There is a long-standing demand to place the legal education under a professional body called the National Council for Legal Education (NCLE), where the Law teachers, Bar Council, Governments, Students, the in-house lawyers and the UGC are equitably represented. The demand, as before has fallen in deaf ears and the new policy has totally ignored the aspects of regulating legal education. It is clarified that the proposed National Council for Higher Education (NCHE) would not be the controlling body for medical and legal education. It implies that the present system of multiple regulators, with no regulator interested in raising the quality and competence of legal education is to continue. In the given frame work the vision of transforming the legal education to global level competence and making capable to render speedy justice dispensation cannot be achieved. For achieving such objectives, more comprehensive and wider approach to legal education is necessary.
Perhaps, legal education would be the only profession where the profession and academia are disconnected. The lackadaisical state of majority of institutions imparting legal education is known to all, but it continues with no corrective action. Unless structural changes are brought in, it is difficult to improve the quality of legal education. The first and foremost requirement is to constitute a single regulatory body for legal education with representation to all stake holders. As far as the legal education is concerned the new education policy is truly disappointing and it is high time that the Union Government hold some meaningful consultations in this direction, with legal academia, law students, non litigating lawyers, legal professionals, Bar Council and all other stake holders and to come out with an exclusive policy on legal education.
* The author is a Professor and I/c. Registrar of Maharashtra National Law University, Mumbai.