The Bar Council of India (BCI) submitted before the Supreme Court on Tuesday that law graduates working in other professions do not need to resign from their jobs in order to be enrolled as lawyers, adding that such people will be given a six-month window to quit their jobs after passing the enrolment examination.
The BCI’s general council made the decision on July 8 and conveyed it to the court in an affidavit filed last week, in a case where the Supreme Court is considering a slew of reforms to the enrolment process.
The Supreme Court was hearing an appeal filed by BCI against a Gujarat high court decision in November 2020 that allowed a single mother to take the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) while continuing to work.
According to the BCI rules, anyone who wishes to take the AIBE must first resign from their job and fill out the enrolment form. The Supreme Court, too, criticised the BCI’s regulations, suggesting on April 21 that a person taking the exam be allowed to resign within a certain time period after passing the AIBE.
The BCI stated in its most recent affidavit, filed through advocate Durga Dutt, that “the Council 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 went on to say that ‘Register B’ will contain the names of candidates who are already employed somewhere and will be allowed to take the AIBE if they promise to leave their job within six months of passing the exam.
The Certificate of Practice, which is required for any legal practitioner, will be issued only after such individuals have left their employment, according to the BCI. The other two categories in Register A and C did not concern the court because the first contained names of people who were not employed elsewhere; the third category will include people who were enrolled but later had their licence suspended in order to pursue other jobs or professions.
Concerning the third category, the BCI stated that such individuals who have been in some other employment for five years or more since the announcement of the AIBE results will be required to retake the enrolment test if they decide to rejoin the legal profession.
This rule, however, does not apply to people who stop practising but work in jobs related to the legal profession, such as public prosecutors, assistant public prosecutors, judicial service, or as law officers in corporate or government offices.
The suggestion to provide separate categorisation of persons in employment who take the AIBE was made to the Supreme Court by amicus curiae and senior advocate KV Vishwanathan, who realised that the bar on taking up any other profession should apply only when practising law and not when taking the test.
Vishwanathan told the Supreme Court that the BCI affidavit is largely acceptable, with minor changes suggested. The bench of justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, S Ravindra Bhat, and MM Sundresh took the affidavit on record and scheduled the matter for further consideration on September 27 to look into other aspects of the AIBE examination pattern and the conduct of surprise inspections of law colleges to ensure education standards are maintained.
In this regard, the BCI stated in its affidavit that an agency to conduct the examination will be chosen by a committee led by a former Supreme Court judge. This committee will also look into the best way to assess the skill and knowledge of law graduates taking AIBE, focusing on their analytical thinking process rather than rote ability. This year’s AIBE cycle will take place in September and October.