Society problems

Transforming Society Through Legal Education | Law

Idisregarding the law is not a valid excuse for wrongdoing. This widely accepted principle highlights the importance of providing legal education to the public, especially in democratic societies where the rule of law is the main pillar that sustains the system. The awareness of citizens of their rights and responsibilities to a large extent determines the quality of a democracy. Knowledge of rights is essential to thwart bullies, official or not. Awareness of your responsibilities is essential to be disciplined on a daily basis and to put the common good before your personal interest.

India, the world’s largest democracy, is placed somewhere in the middle on a list of 128 countries by the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index. The index represents the measure of how the rule of law is experienced and perceived in a country. There is little to be proud of the Indian experience. This situation calls for an in-depth overhaul of legal education in the country.

The action plan required to achieve this goal should essentially consist of two parts. One is to correct the serious shortcomings of the current system in which the study of law is part of the higher education curriculum. The second, and the most important from the point of view of social benefits, is to bring the teaching of law to the common people. The key to educating the general public is, as the cliché goes, to catch them young. This will require sincere steps to include legal awareness in the school curriculum.

In several developed countries children are familiarized in schools with basic laws, rules of the road and measures to ensure their safety. India can design a similar system, but legal education should never be part of the review program. Teaching should be done using videos, anecdotes, quiz contests and more with the participation of the whole class. It should be like teaching a child to play soccer, hold a cricket bat, or jump in a swimming pool.

The underlying purpose is to instill in the child the belief that the laws are there to make life peaceful and safe, to protect the weak from the rich and the powerful; that law enforcement officers are there to help and not to harm and that they should be confronted if they harm. Essentially, it’s about creating a positive perception of the law among the younger generation.

The lessons learned in childhood are hardly forgotten. If the idea takes hold, a day will come when a child will advise his mother not to park the scooter in the middle of the road when it is dropped off at school, ask his father not to skip the signal by rolling with him, dares to look a lost policeman in the eye and let him know what she thinks, report a dowry offense with little hesitation, or stop child marriage with the full support of her generation. It will be a big blow for India.

The current legal education system, as mentioned above, is fraught with pitfalls. There are two ways to enter the right stream. One is the three-year LLB course taken after graduation and the other is the relatively new integrated five-year degree course such as BA LLB or BBA LLB. One cannot be blamed if one thinks that the latter was designed for the market.

In this context, the questions that Ranjan Gogoi raised when he was Chief Justice of India are still relevant today. He pointed out that integrated courses had been launched by national law schools to attract top talent to the legal profession. The course attracted talent, but it became too elitist with prohibitive prices. Have those who fainted enriched the profession? It would take several years for a young lawyer to achieve financial independence. This is how a good part of them joined the corporate world as lawyers.

There was also the proliferation of self-funded private institutions, with poor quality teachers and inadequate facilities, offering integrated law degrees. This only helped to take away the luster from these courses.

The three-year LLB course continued, albeit with diminishing importance, as a poor man’s choice. Here again, many aspiring students have suffered a setback, with some institutions setting age limits for admission. It is in spite of the unwritten law that everyone should know the law.

At present, virtually no law school graduate has a clear understanding of legal processes and procedures. They have to learn them the hard way from seasoned professionals. However, it is only fitting that a mechanism modeled on the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India should be made available to those who are seriously interested in becoming practicing lawyers. They will be able to work under professionals and attend courses given by professionals. Of course, there will be a risk of failure as in the CA exam. A serious student must be ready to take it.

In India, people respect and trust the judiciary more than any other public institution, and the courts are generally regarded as the most trusted providers of justice. Judges are chosen from among lawyers, and it is imperative that law schools produce quality graduates.

Incidentally, there is an important question which should not be ignored in a discussion of legal education. The general public complains that Indian laws are generally a mass of statements wrapped in legal jargon. It is hardly surprising if someone believes that this situation is allowed to remain so in order to keep the legal profession as the exclusive preserve of a small part of the population. It is up to the law commissions and legislators to settle the matter. In any case, one of the reasons for the accumulation of cases, especially civil ones, in Indian courts is that the laws are not always perfectly clear.

For a civilized society, the teaching of law is as important as the teaching of health and hygiene. Making the fundamental laws known to the public is a major responsibility of the state. It is high time for governments to take the lead and persuade private organizations to join.

(Jayakrishnan K is a lawyer.)