‘No need to resign from job to enrol as lawyers,’ Bar Council of India tells SC

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Law graduates employed in other professions need not resign from their respective jobs to get enrolled as lawyers, the Bar Council of India (BCI) informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday, adding that such people will be provided a six-month window to quit their jobs after clearing the enrolment examination.

The decision was taken by the BCI’s general council on July 8, and conveyed to the court through an affidavit filed last week, in a matter where the top court is considering a slew of reforms in the enrolment process.

The apex court was hearing an appeal filed by BCI against a November 2020 decision by the Gujarat high court that allowed a single mother to take the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) while continuing her job.

The BCI rules state that any person who wished to take the AIBE has to first resign from the job and fill the form for enrolment. The top court, too, frowned upon such regulations framed by the BCI and suggested on April 21 that a person giving the examination should be allowed to resign within a fixed time period upon clearing the AIBE.

In its latest affidavit filed through advocate Durga Dutt, the BCI said, “The Council after thorough deliberation and consideration of issues has accepted the suggestions made by this Court and has resolved that every State Bar Council shall have three registers – A, B and C.”

It further said that ‘Register B’ will contain names of candidates who are already employed somewhere, and will be allowed to take the AIBE after giving an undertaking that they will give up their profession within six months of clearing the examination.

The Certificate of Practice, required for any legal practitioner, will be issued only after such persons have left the employment, the BCI said. The other two categories in Register A and C did not concern the court, as the first category contained names of persons who are not employed elsewhere; the third category will comprise persons who have been enrolled, but will later get their license suspended to take up other jobs or professions.

As far as the third category is concerned, the BCI said such persons, who remain in some other employment for a period of five years or more since the announcement of the AIBE results, will be required to take the enrolment test again as and when they decide to rejoin the legal profession.

However, this rule will not apply to persons who relinquish practice, but take up jobs otherwise linked to the legal profession, such as public prosecutor, assistant public prosecutor, judicial service, or join as law officers in corporate or government offices.

The suggestion to provide separate categorisation of persons in employment who take AIBE was suggested to the apex court by amicus curiae and senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, who realised that the bar on taking up any other profession should apply only at the time of legal practice, and not for taking the test.

In the appeal before the top court, a similar situation arose as a lady named Twinkle Mangaonkar, who was employed in a non-legal profession, was asked to resign in order to sit for the AIBE. She challenged this requirement before the Gujarat high court, claiming that after the death of her husband, she had to look after her son and father, and it would cause severe hardship to resign as she would be left with no means for livelihood.

Vishwanathan told the Supreme Court that the BCI affidavit is largely acceptable while suggesting minor corrections. The bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, S Ravindra Bhat and MM Sundresh took the affidavit on record and posted the matter for further consideration on September 27 to examine other aspects of pattern of the AIBE examination, and conduct of surprise inspection of law colleges to ensure maintenance of education standards.

On these aspects too, the BCI said in its affidavit that a committee headed by a former Supreme Court judge will select an agency to conduct the examination. This committee will also examine the best way to test the skill and knowledge of the law graduates taking AIBE, based on their analytical thinking process rather than their rote ability. The next cycle of AIBE will be held in September-October this year.

With regard to the inspection of colleges, the SC noted in its April 21 order that nearly 500 institutions that provide legal education were found to be below standard. The BCI, led by its chairman and senior advocate Manan Kumar Mishra, told the top court that the surprise inspection team will comprise a former high court judge, law professors, and a member of the state bar council or any senior advocate having minimum 25 years of practice.

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