Judgement Pronouncement: BCI’s Power to Conduct All India Bar ExamChallenge to the All India Bar Exams
Judges: S.K. Kaul J, Sanjiv Khanna J, A.S. Oka J, Vikram Nath J, J.K. Maheshwari J
Today, the 5-Judge Constitution Bench led by Justice S.K. Kaul upheld the Bar Council of India’s (BCI) power to conduct the All India Bar Examination (AIBE) for advocates who seek to practice and argue before all courts in the country. The All India Bar Council Rules, 2010 grant the BCI this power.
The Bar Council of India (BCI) introduced the All India Bar Exam (AIBE) to assess a candidate’s basic understanding of the law and determine whether they are fit to practice as an advocate. In April 2010 the BCI introduced the All India Bar Council Rules, 2010 which made passing the AIBE mandatory to practice law.
These rules were reinforced by the BCI’s 2015 rules which made certain benefits for advocates contingent on writing the AIBE and renewing their Certificate of Practice every five years. Subsequently, a number of previously enrolled advocates and freshly enrolled advocates challenged the 2015 Rules issued by the Bar Council of India.
On March 18th, 2016, a 3-Judge Bench comprising former CJI T.S. Thakur and Justices R. Banumathi and U.U. Lalit referred the case to a 5-Judge Constitution Bench. The Bench was concerned that an examination which grants licenses to advocates may interfere with law graduate’s fundamental right to practice law. The Bench stated that they were not against the exam itself, but wanted to verify if the AIBE was within the ‘parameters of law’.
Bench Upholds AIBE, Subject to Minor Changes
Justice Kaul, who pronounced the unanimous decision, noted some additional conditions and guidelines:
- Law students can write the AIBE if they produce proof that they have passed all their college examinations so far;
- Law graduates can perform all tasks related to the legal profession before they are enrolled, with the exception of arguing before the court;
- An enrolled law graduate who has been employed in a ‘non-legal context’ for more than five years must write the AIBE again;
- The BCI was directed to give urgent attention to different State Bar Councils prescribing different fees for law graduates to enroll as advocates.
Finally, the Bench clarified that their Judgment will only apply to future law graduates so that the decision doesn’t adversely affect those who have enrolled and passed the AIBE so far.