In a major reprieve for aspiring law students, the Bombay high court on Friday stayed a circular issued by the Bar Council of India (BCI), prescribing different upper-age limits for 3-year and 5-year law courses.
“How can such restrictions be imposed,” the division bench of Chief Justice Manjula Chellur and justice Girish Kulkarni sought to know. “In our view, acquiring knowledge is a fundamental right,” the bench added, while staying the BCI circular of September 17, 2016.
The circular revived an old clause in Legal Practice Rules, 2008, prescribing the upper age limit of 30 years for three-year law courses for general category students and 35 years for students belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and other backward classes. It has also prescribed upper age limit of 20 years (22 years for SC, STs and OBCs) for the five-year law course.
“A person may just want to acquire law and may not want to practice as a lawyer,” the bench said, after the counsel for BCI pointed out that the upper-age limit introduced by the circular was for the purpose of maintaining quality and standard in legal practice.
“I have seen several retired persons completing law courses and successfully taking up legal practice thereafter,” said the chief justice, adding that someone employed in a financial institution may want to know more about the debt recovery law and the functioning of the DRT (Debt Recovery Tribunal).
The court was hearing a petition filed by Andheri resident Sandip Kedia, 43, and Malad resident Souvik Roy, 56, who had appeared for the common entrance test for law admissions last year, but were later declared ineligible for admission to the law course in view of the circular.
They contended that the clause concerned, Rule 28, has already been struck down by Punjab and Haryana high court and the Allahabad high court, and the revival of the rule is directly contrary to the judgments, and the circular makes no mention of these judgments.
They have further contended that the BCI is required to protect the standard of legal education and this may include regulating curriculum, imposing certain teaching standards etc. “It certainly cannot extend to imposing entry barriers for certain aspiring students,” states their petition.
The bench has now posted the petition for further hearing after four weeks.