Kerala High Court: P.B.Suresh Kumar, J., directed the Government Law College, Ernakulam to relax the requirement of 20 weeks internships for the fifth year law students who were unable to meet the said requirement due to pandemic.
The instant petition was filed by the fifth year law students who were undergoing Five Year integrated B.com. LLB (Hons), course from the Government Law College, Ernakulam. The course was supposed to be over in the academic year 2020-2021. In terms of Rule 24 of Schedule II to the Rules of Legal Education framed by the Bar Council of India, internship is part of the curriculum of the course. Rule 25 of Schedule III to the Rules of the Legal Education provides that each registered student shall have completed a minimum of 20 weeks internship during the period of legal studies. It is clarified, however, in the said Rule that internship in any year cannot be for a continuous period exceeding four weeks.
It was stated by the petitioners that they could complete, on an average, only 12 weeks internship during their course as none of the institutions prescribed in the Rules permitted internship during the last two years due to the outbreak of the pandemic, COVID – 19. It was also stated by the petitioners that they would not be able to complete the remaining period of their internship before culmination of the course as there would be online classes for them before the pending semester examinations. It was alleged by the petitioners that if the term of the internship provided for in the Rules was not appropriately relaxed, the petitioners would not be in a position to complete their course.
A statement has been filed by the Bar Council of India (BCI) indicating, among others, that the grievance voiced by the petitioners is genuine and the University to which the college is affiliated is free to adopt any other appropriate measures which they may feel adequate to satisfy the requirements of the course.
On the other hand, the University pointed out that insofar as the Rules of Legal Education framed by the BCI remain intact, the University might not be in a position to adopt any other method to satisfy the requirements of the course.
Rule 24 of Schedule II to the Rules of Legal Education framed by the BCI reads thus:
Moot court exercise and Internship:
This paper may have three components of 30 marks each and a viva for 10 marks.
- Moot Court (30 Marks). Every student may be required to do at least three moot courts in a year with 10 marks for each. The moot court work will be on assigned problem and it will be evaluated for 5 marks for written submissions and 5 marks for oral advocacy.
- Observance of Trial in two cases, one Civil and one Criminal (30 marks): Students may be required to attend two trials in the course of the last two or three years of LL.B. studies. They will maintain a record and enter the various steps observed during their attendance on different days in the court assignment. This scheme will carry 30 marks.
- Interviewing techniques and Pre-trial preparations and Internship diary (30 marks): Each student will observe two interviewing sessions of clients at the Lawyer’s Office/Legal Aid Office and record the proceedings in a diary, which will carry 15 marks. Each student will further observe the preparation of documents and court papers by the Advocate and the procedure for the filing of the suit/petition. This will be recorded in the diary, which will carry 15 marks.
- The fourth component of this paper will be viva voce examination on all the above three aspects. This will carry 10 marks.
Rules 25 of Schedule III to the said Rules read, thus:
Minimum Period of Internship:
- Each registered student shall have completed minimum of 12 weeks internship for Three Year Course stream and 20 weeks in case of Five Year Course stream during the entire period of legal studies under NGO, Trial and Appellate Advocates, Judiciary, Legal Regulatory authorities, Legislatures and Parliament, Other Legal Functionaries, Market Institutions, Law Firms, Companies, Local Self Government and other such bodies as the University shall stipulate, where law is practiced either in action or in dispute resolution or in management. Provided that internship in any year cannot be for a continuous period of more than Four Weeks and all students shall at least gone through once in the entire academic period with Trial and Appellate Advocates.
- Each student shall keep Internship diary in such form as may be stipulated by the University concerned and the same shall be evaluated by the Guide in Internship and also a Core Faculty member of the staff each time. The total mark shall be assessed in the Final Semester of the course in the 4th Clinical course as stipulated under the Rules in Schedule II.
After pursuing Rule 24-25 of Schedule II to the Rules of Legal Education, the Bench agreed to the contention of the students that it was made mandatory for them to undergo internship for a period of 20 weeks. The Bench stated that the fact that the petitioners could not undergo internship during the last two years for reasons not attributable to them was not disputed either by the BCI or by the University. Similarly, the fact that it was impossible for the petitioners to complete the remaining period of their internship before the culmination of their course was also not disputed either by the BCI or by the University.
The contention before the Court was that, while the BCI submitted that the University is free to adopt any other measures in the place of the period of internship not undergone by the candidates, the University took the stand that so long as the Rules of Legal Education framed by the BCI remain intact, they may not be justified in doing so.
Noticeably, the Rules of Legal Education were rules framed by the BCI in exercise of its function under Section 7(1)(h) of the Advocates Act, 1961 and that in terms of the said provision, it is the function of the BCI legal education by laying down its standards in consultation with the Universities in India and the State Bar Councils. After relying on V.Sudeer v. Bar Council of India, (1999) 3 SCC 176, the Bench was of the view that the said Rules were only suggestive of the ways and means to promote legal education and it was for the universities to make appropriate regulations prescribing the curriculum for the course, having regard to the standards prescribed by the BCI.
Noticing that the University had so far not framed any regulations prescribing the curriculum for the course and instead, they were following the Rules prescribed by the Bar Council of India as the curriculum for the course, the Bench clarified that the Rules prescribed by the Bar Council of India were only suggestive of the ways and means to promote legal education, and the same would not stand in the way of the University making appropriate changes in the curriculum in contingencies of the instant nature, especially when the competent authority for prescription of the standards of legal education, viz, BCI itself had permitted the University to do so.
Further, since the law does not contemplate a vacuum, the Bench applied the doctrine of necessity to tide over situation at hand, which permitted certain things to be done as a matter of necessity which would not otherwise countenance on the touchstone of judicial propriety. The Bench clarified that the doctrine of necessity also confers authority on the University to adopt the course suggested by the BCI so as to enable the petitioners to complete their course. Consequently, the University was directed to adopt appropriate other measures which it may feel adequate to satisfy the requirements of the course in the place of the period of internship not undergone by the petitioners and others who had been admitted for the Five Year integrated Law Degree course during the academic year 2016 – 2017 expeditiously.[Jomol John v. Bar Council of India, 2021 SCC OnLine Ker 2634, decided on 01-07-2021]
Kamini Sharma, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.
Appearance before the Court by:
Counsels for the Petitioners: Adv. Amrin Fahima and Adv. Stefin Thomas
Counsels for the Respondents: Adv. Asok M. Cherian, Adv. Princy Xavier, Adv. Rajit and Adv. Surin George Iype