The Supreme Court on Tuesday directed the Bar Council of India to reconsider, after hearing the various stakeholders, the upper age-limit for taking admission to the five-year and three-year law degree courses.
The bench headed by Justice SA Bobde was hearing a plea by Rishab Duggal for setting aside a 2016 circular by which the BCI had restored Clause 28 in Schedule III of Rule 11 of the Rules of Legal Education, 2008 (that was earlier withdrawn in 2013), which arbitrarily provides for a maximum age limit of as low as 20 years for taking admission in the integrated bachelor of law degree programme.
While both Justice Bobde and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul were of the view that there is no specific age to acquire education, Justice Kaul observed that people from economically-weaker sections may not have linear education and may end up being older than other students and so must not be deprived of the opportunity.
The counsel for the petitioner Advocate Zoheb Hossain cited the example of a 70-year old Chinese farmer who pursued a law degree to sue a state-owned company which had wrongfully acquired his land. “There are women who decide to take up law professionally after raising their children, or even people who make mid-career changes”, he made his case.
The 2017 privacy judgment in Justice K. S. Puttaswamy was relied on to argue that the right to select one’s profession is a matter of choice and privacy, being a travelling right, is also violated by this Age limit of 20 years for the five-year programme and 30 years for the three-year course.
In the petition, it has been submitted that the impugned provision violates the fundamental rights of aspiring law students under Articles 14, 19(1)(g) and 21 of the Constitution.
The plea avers that in a similar move in the year 1993, the BCI had added Rule 9 under Chapter III of Part VI of the BCI Rules, barring those persons who have completed 45 years of age from enrolling as an advocate under the Advocates Act, 1961. The said Rule 9 was challenged before the Apex Court in the case of Indian Council of Legal Aid & Advice v. BCI where it was struck down- “Therefore, the introduction of a rule unreasonably restricting the admission to the law courses itself being a harsher and an even more unreasonable restriction on the rights of aspiring law students is contrary to the principle and ratio laid down by this Hon’ble Court in Indian Council of Legal Aid & Advice”, it was contended.
Further, it is pointed out that in view of the Conflicting judgments passed by different High Courts in writ petitions challenging the validity of the said clause, the interference of the top Court is indispensable to ensure certainty in the lives of students and consistency in the approach of the BCI- while the Punjab & Haryana and the Bombay High Courts have declared the clause to be ultra vires the provisions of the Advocates Act, the Madras High Court has upheld the age-limit.