Verdict corner: Should age be a bar for learning law?

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Published: September 9, 2015 12:12:49 AM

The age bar issue has remained debatable. Some say there should be no upper age limit for admission to the three-year LLB course. Others feel that age restriction violates Article 14 of the Constitution and recommend its deletion

With the quashing of a September 28, 2013, notification of the Bar Council of India (BCI)—which did away with the upper age limit—the Madras High Court has paved the way for restoration of an upper age limit of 30 years for open category candidates and 35 years for reserved categories for the three-year Bachelor of Laws (LLB) course.

The high court said that BCI amended Clause 28 under Schedule III to Rule 11 of the Rules of Legal Education, 2008, without following the procedure. The clause stipulates the age limit for admission in three-year and five-year law courses. While hearing a petition filed by B Ashok, a practising advocate, the high court also set aside the Tamil Nadu Ambedkar Law University’s admission notification, which did not prescribe any age limit, and directed it to issue a fresh notification.

BCI had done away with the upper age limit on the basis of a one-man committee’s (S Prabakaran) recommendation and the Tamil Nadu law department’s notification dated June 3 for admission to the three-year LLB course.

However, the legal fraternity has termed BCI’s decision to do away with the age bar as a “regressive step”.

According to Delhi High Court Bar Association secretary Abhijat Bal, allowing retired and older people to enter dilutes the quality of this noble profession. “These retired personnel who have played their innings and have enough resources (lifetime earnings and pensions) can’t be allowed to rob bright youngsters of their rightful entitlement at the beginning of their careers. The unregulated entry of white-haired people will be detrimental to the profession and this is the prime reason why the quality of lawyers have gone down. Why should we allow rehabilitating such unemployed people?” Bal points out.

Welcoming the high court decision, another budding lawyer Adit Khorana says that the removal of age bar would have an adverse effect on the standards of education in higher institutes. “The quality of legal professionals definitely depends not only on the calibre of the students but also on the desire to excel, which is lacking in the so-called overage students,” he says.

Disagreeing with the legal fraternity, S Pardaani, a 60-year-old aspirant who retired from the defence ministry last year, says that age should not be an impediment to pursue law and attain knowledge even for people at the fag-end of their lives. “The legal profession always interested me. There should not be upper age limit for admission into professional courses. It should be free. Restriction of age to take admission violates the fundamental right, Article 19 of the Constitution, which gives every citizen the right to practice any profession or to carry on any occupation, trade or business,” he says, adding, “I don’t see the profession of law as a means to earn livelihood. It is a noble profession intended to serve the society.”

He adds the Supreme Court had earlier this year ruled that age will not be a bar for learning law. The apex court had upheld the Allahabad High Court order directing the Lucknow-based Dr Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University to remove the age limit of 20 years for candidates wishing to appear in CLAT, the all-India entrance exam conducted for admissions to their UG and PG degree programmes (LLB and LLM), this year.

The age bar issue has remained debatable. Until the academic year 2008-09, there was no upper age limit for admission to the three-year LLB course. However, BCI in 2008 framed the Rules of Legal Education, and introduced 20 years as general category age limit for five-year integrated LLB programme, and 22 years for reserved category applicants. It introduced 30 years as upper age limit for general category and 35 for reserved category applicants for three-year LLB. BCI’s rules were based on a three-member committee of senior counsel Gopal Subramaniam, MN Krishnamani and SNP Sinha, the then chairman of BCI. The panel was formed by the Supreme Court in the case Bar Council of India vs Bonnie FOI Law College and others. The committee submitted its report on October 6, 2009, and upheld the Rules of Legal Education, 2008. The report was approved unanimously and a petition against the recommendations was rejected by the Supreme Court later.

However, in 2013, newly elected bar council members appointed S Prabakaran as a one-man committee to reconsider the age restriction clause. The committee said age restriction violated Article 14 of the Constitution and recommended its deletion. BCI hence withdrew the clause and notified it on August 31, 2013.

In July, BCI, in another case, has informed the Supreme Court that it will not permit candidates take admission in law courses if they have obtained 10+2 or graduation or even PG degrees through open universities, even though such degrees are recognised by the University Grants Commission.

“Higher qualification obtained by the short-cut method cannot be equated with the scheme of 15 years of education in any manner and a graduate of an open university with no formal education cannot be expected to have a mature understanding as compared to those graduates who have formal education,” BCI said in its affidavit filed through its counsel Ardhendumauli Prasad in response to a PIL by K Shravan Kumar. The matter is still pending before the apex court.

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