With a view to balance the mandate of Bar Council of India (BCI) Rules and the students’ “legitimate expectations” of a fixed academic schedule, the Delhi High Court on Friday quashed the list issued by the Faculty of Law, Delhi University, of students detained for not meeting the prescribed attendance while directing the institution to hold within 8 weeks at least 139 hours of extra classes/tutorials for all those students desirous of attending the same and making up the shortfall in their attendance caused only due to the faculty’s failure to hold the mandatory minimum number of class hours in compliance with the Rules.
Justice Rekha Palli said so while deciding a batch of petitions moved by students who were detained from appearing in the examinations of their respective semesters for failing to meet the criteria of minimum attendance of 70 percent as per the BCI Rules.
Some of the petitioners were granted interim relief in May and were allowed to appear in the examination pending the decision on their petition.
“Since some of the Petitioners had been granted, by way of an interim relief, permission to give their end-semester examinations during the pendency of the present writ petitions, their respective results shall be declared provisionally. However, it is made clear that the same would be subject to them attending the requisite number of extra classes to be organized by the Faculty of Law, and subsequently meeting the mandatory attendance criteria prescribed under Rule 12 of the BCI Rules,” the court said on Friday.
Law Faculty itself on wrong foot
Senior Advocate Prashanto Sen submitted that that the manner in which the Faculty of Law has calculated its students’ attendance for the Concerned Semester is in itself unfair and wholly arbitrary.
The court took on the task of performing the balancing act after it was informed that the Faculty of Law, which is detaining students for the shortage of attendance, has itself not conducted the requisite number of 360 hours of classes as mandated by the BCI legal education rules.
“The court must perform the task of balancing the binding mandate of the BCI Rules and the students’ legitimate expectations to have a determinate academic schedule and an adequate opportunity to make up the shortfall in their attendance before the conclusion of an academic semester on one hand, against the Faculty of Law’s plea that the students ought to have met the prescribed attendance criteria vis-à-vis the lectures actually delivered,” said Justice Palli.
“I am of the opinion that the only way the aforementioned concerns can be balanced in the facts of the present case is by directing the Faculty of Law to conduct as many extra classes as may be necessary for it to meet the mandatory standards prescribed under the BCI Rules. Such a direction will not only be in consonance with the mandate of the Bar Council of India, which the Faculty of Law was bound to comply with as per the stand of Bar Council of India itself, but will also ensure that not only the Petitioners but also other similarly placed students who could not attend classes due to legitimate reasons, including medical concerns, are not held ineligible only because the Faculty of Law did not hold the statutorily prescribed mandatory minimum number of class hours and working days,” she added.
Senior Advocate Kirti Uppal appeared pro bono for some of the petitioner students along with Himanshu Dhuper, Ashish Virmani and Rajesh Mishra.
One of the petitioners had argued that during the course of the concerned semester, not only were a much fewer number of classes scheduled vis-a-vis the minimum requirement prescribed under the Bar Council of India Rules, but even all the scheduled classes were not held since a number of working days in February and March 2018 were lost on account of prolonged strikes that were called by the Delhi University Teachers’ Association (DUTA) as also certain on-campus events organized by the college administration itself.
The petitioners also relied upon Rule 10 of the Rules of Legal Education, Bar Council of India Rules, to contend that the Faculty of Law is under a statutory obligation to conduct a minimum of 450 hours of class over a period of 15 weeks in a semester of a regular unitary LLB course. Out of these 450 hours of class, he submits, it is mandatory that at least 360 hours are dedicated solely to in-class lectures, whereas the remaining 110 hours must be dedicated to tutorials, moot courtroom exercises, seminars etc.
By relying on the Faculty of Law’s specific averment in its sur-rejoinder, the petitioner contended that it is the Faculty of Law’s own admitted case that it has conducted only 230 hours of class during the course of the concerned semester, as a consequence of which it is not only in violation of the BCI Rules but has in effect also deprived its students of an adequate opportunity to meet the requisite attendance criteria to take their end-semester examinations.
Kirti Uppal drew the court’s attention to video clippings that were allegedly obtained from the official website of DUTA, in support of his contention that there were, in fact, strikes called by DUTA during February and March 2018 and many members of the Faculty of Law had participated in it.
The court went on to issue following directions:
- The Faculty of Law must, within eight weeks, hold at least 139 hours of extra classes/tutorials for all those students desirous of attending the same and making up the shortfall in their attendance caused only due to the Faculty of Law’s failure to hold the mandatory minimum number of class hours in compliance with the BCI Rules. Since some of the Petitioners had been granted, by way of an interim relief, permission to give their end-semester examinations during the pendency of the present writ petitions, their respective results shall be declared provisionally. However, it is made clear that the same would be subject to them attending the requisite number of extra classes to be organized by the Faculty of Law, and subsequently meeting the mandatory attendance criteria prescribed under Rule 12 of the BCI Rules.
- The Faculty of Law must allow the students who could not meet the prescribed attendance criteria on account of their mid-semester admissions, to attend the 139 hours of extra classes/tutorials to be conducted pursuant to the aforementioned directions of this court, and further conduct as many additional extra classes/tutorials in excess of the aforementioned 139 hours, as may be necessary to afford an adequate opportunity to such students to meet the mandatory attendance criteria prescribed under Rule 12 of the BCI Rules.
- In the meanwhile, the Faculty of Law must allow those of its students who were detained from giving their end-semester examinations due to shortage of attendance (caused only as a result of the Faculty of Law’s aforementioned infractions) and could not be granted any interim relief, to take their supplementary examinations for the concerned semester. However, it is made clear that a student’s result in respect of the said supplementary examinations shall be declared only if he/she meets the attendance criteria prescribed under the BCI Rules after attending the extra classes/tutorials held by the Faculty of Law pursuant to the directions of this court hereinabove.
- The Bar Council of India is directed to exercise its statutory powers under the Advocates Act, 1961 as also the Bar Council of India Rules, and take immediate steps to ensure the compliance of inter alia the Rules of Legal Education, by all its recognized centres of legal education.
Practice of admitting students mid-semester unfathomable
While deciding the petition, the court also noted that some of the students who did not meet the attendance criterion were that admitted mid-semester and could not have been marked for the classed they missed before admission.
“It is imperative to note that some of the Petitioners in the present batch of writ petitions are students who have not been able to meet the requisite attendance criteria because they were admitted (or rather re-admitted) into the Faculty of Law only in the middle of the Concerned Semester, due to which they were marked absent for all the classes they had missed prior to their joining the college.
“While the practice of permitting mid-semester admissions is unfathomable, especially when the college authorities are fully aware that the concerned student will not be able to meet the prescribed attendance criteria, it is not for this Court to venture into the wisdom of the said academic policy. However, I am of the considered view that once the Faculty of Law has permitted such mid-semester readmissions, it does so at its own peril. In such cases, the Faculty of Law cannot merely mark the concerned students absent for classes that they could not have attended even if they wanted to, since there were not on the attendance rolls of the college,” it said.