The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, inaugurated the Conference of National Consultation for Second Generation Reforms in Legal Education in New Delhi today. Following is the text of the Prime Minister’s address on the occasion:
“I am very happy to be in your midst today in this national conference dealing with reforms in legal education system. The importance of your conference cannot be over emphasized. If we are to have a society as we must be where the common man and common woman gets speedy and affordable access to justice, if we are to have in our country the turbulence in effect of the Rule of Law, if we are to have an economic environment where contracts are easily enforceable, then we must ensure that our law teachers, practicing advocates, corporate legal luminaries, legal advisors, judicial officers and legal facilitators are indeed men and women of very high intellectual caliber. And this is possible only if there is dramatic reform and improvement in the scope and quality of our legal education system. I therefore congratulate my colleague the Law Minister and his team for organizing this important conference as a part of the initiative to improve the legal education system in our country.
Over half a century ago, the then President of India, Dr. Radhakrishnan stated– and he himself was a great teacher—lamented that “our colleges of law do not hold a place of high esteem either at home or abroad, nor has law become an area of profound scholarship and enlightened research”. It’s no doubt we have travelled a long distance since that time. But we must admit and have to ask honestly ourselves whether we have significantly altered the landscape of our legal education system. We do have a small number of dynamic and outstanding law schools, but I am afraid they remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalized mediocrity. We are not even marginally nearer to profound scholarship and enlightened research in law. As we and we must introspect honestly, we must sadly accept that Dr Radhakrishnan’s powerful yet poignant words may not be amenable to any radical restatement even today.
I believe your deliberations in this conference should be tempered with the realization that most of the problems as also the panaceas in the field of legal education are well known. There is a wealth of literature and ideas already available on the subject, including studies by the Law Commission, the recommendations of the National Knowledge Commission, the report of the Bar Council and learned articles by academics. Not any less important is the valuable experience of eminent and experienced practitioners who have tried and tested abstract legal propositions in real life situations. We need to focus on utilizing these rich, vast and diverse resources for imparting legal education in our country.
Reforming and improving our legal education system to meet the needs of our growing economy and a knowledge society that we wish to become requires action on many fronts. There is the issue of making our legal curricula multidisciplinary, creative and flexible. It is only relatively recently that areas like ethics in the judicial profession, clinical legal education, alternative dispute resolution, rights of refugees, rights of prisoners and women and child rights, are being given their legitimate due in the legal curriculum. There is an urgent need to integrate these and other areas into a national, uniform course module with fewer exceptions and fewer divergences.
There is also the serious problem of law teachers – a vexed problem of numbers, quality and diversity. We need good law teachers to shape and nurture young legal minds. The sad reality is that when we look for experts to head new law schools and the new faculties, we have precious few to choose from. There is an obvious need to provide more uniform but calibrated and better salaries, accompanied by considerably improved terms of service for our teachers.
Our law libraries are too few and woefully stocked. We must provide the latest tools of research to our students, scholars and practitioners. Law schools should be linked with the best sources of knowledge globally.
Internship and post degree placements must also be regulated to match applicants and recipients appropriately. Today, some fortunate students who have the right contacts have the luxury of plenty in terms of options while several of their talented but less resourceful colleagues go a begging for placements.
We must dream if we want to make progress of having a world class educational system. Law universities should be a part of our national ambition. I have a vision that the new South Asian University soon to be established by this Government with other South Asian countries would ultimately expand to include an outstanding law faculty with an eminent global faculty. Our new five year Law Schools across India have shown that we are second to none when we make up our mind but we have to spread this excellence for ensuring inclusive legal education.
Our legal education system should be particularly sensitive to the needs of the marginalized sections of our society like women, Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes and the poor. Not only should these sections of society be adequately represented among law students, the legal education we impart should inculcate sensitivity towards the special needs of the under-privileged sections of our community.
One expects even experienced and established legal luminaries, judges and other law professionals to submit to periodic and continuing legal education programmes without standing on pomp or seniority. After all, this is common place in other advanced countries of the world. There are revolutionary changes taking place in information systems, communications and technology which require corresponding changes in our legal system. Highly specialized areas of law such as intellectual property law, corporate law, cyber law, cyber crimes, human rights law and international commercial law require specialized training and skills that should be imparted by our law schools. The opening of trade and capital markets as a result of the processes of globalization and the retreat of the State from some of its traditional roles have raised new legal issues concerning the way in which the poor and marginalized sections can protect themselves from the adverse effects of these changes. The very nature of law, of legal institutions and the practice of law are in the throes of a paradigm shift.
One of the most challenging tasks in legal education in India is to strike a proper balance to ensure that our students are taught a fair mix of courses that give them knowledge and training in Indian law, but at the same time prepare them for facing the challenges of globalization, where domestic legal mechanisms interact with both international and foreign legal systems. This interaction is going to deepen in the years to come and our law schools must prepare themselves to face this challenge. Let me conclude by wishing the deliberations of this conference all success. I sincerely hope the conference will result in actionable agenda and recommendations to improve the legal education system in our country. I also wish all of you the very best in your professional and personal lives.”