Published: 26th March 2017
Age no 'bar' for Mumbai orphan's legal dreams: Meet Michael Sam, the youth who may have helped remove the age cap to study law in India
With the Supreme Court asking the Bar Council of India to relook at why they need an age cap for their BLL courses, we speak to Mumbai orphan Michael Sam, whose legal dreams have risen from the ashes
They say that age is just a number. If you're somebody who's trying to get a law degree in India, without having completed an undergrad degree, then the number that is most likely haunting you is either 20 or 22. For Michael Sam, an orphan who grew up working in canteens and small offices around the city of Mumbai, the number 22 is almost always on his mind.
After years of going back and forth on the issue, the Supreme Court recently passed an interim order to stay the notification issued by the Bar Council of India fixing age limits for law aspirants (20/22 years) to be admitted into the LLB five years course. Since 2008, the BCI has been trying to bring about an age restriction for law students but a lot of aspiring students have been petitioning against this move — Michael Sam is among that number.
WATCH: Michael Sam's story here
After having struggled his way through life, working odd jobs to be able to get an education, Sam is now a 12th standard student in Mumbai. Except unlike most twelfth graders, he's 22 years old. "My certificate says that I was left at an orphanage by a woman who rescued me since I had been abandoned. Till I was 15-16 I grew up here but I did not think too much about getting an education seriously," he explained.
He only thought of life and a career after IDIA or Increasing Diversity by Increasing Accessibility, an initiative to reach out to marginalised sections and help them consider law as a viable career option visited his school. After a small test, he was selected for a law training course to prepare for the law entrance exam.
The only problem is that he was already past the 'legal' limit of 20. After all, Sam had only managed to clear his twelfth grade board exams recently.
Timeline of flip-flops: Why you could not study law out of high school if you're over 20
2008: Bar Council of India introduces the age restriction for 3 year LLB course as 20 years (22 years for SC/ST candidates) and 30 years for 5 year LLB course (35 years for SC/ST candidates) in Clause 28 of Legal Education Rules, 2008
2013: After protests and litigation and several representations, the BCI withdrew the notification and removed the age cap
2015: The withdrawal was challenged in the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court and the sitting judge considered the withdrawal by BCI as illegal. BCI went to the Supreme Court where the judgement by the HC was upheld. Age cap was back
January 2017: Petitioners take up the cudgel again and the SC sends a notice to the Bar Council asking them to work out why the age cap needed to be enforced
March 2017: Bar Council decided to increase the upper age limit for five-year law course from 20 to 22 and for three-year law course from 30 to 45, at a meeting of the Legal Education Committee of the BCI held in Kolkata, in a bid to appease appellants
March 2017: Supreme Court issues stay order on the age-cap notification, questioning why such a restriction on age was necessary. Final hearing posted for July 2017
No logical relation between age and the study of the law
There is absolutely no logical relation between age and the study of the law, says Professor (Dr) Shamnad Basheer, who helped draft Michael Sam’s petition to the Supreme Court. Basheer is an advocate and the founder and managing trustee of IDIA.
"Unlike other branches of study, law is by nature is an inter-disciplinary subject especially for certain specialties," said the Senior Advocate, giving the example of tax law or intellectual property law, where it essential to have a background in accountancy and engineering respectively. "We need law in all kinds of professions and it always works better if one has a background in a subject other than law," he added.
Which brings us back to the age issue. "Also, many students might not be able to decide at 16-17 what they want to pursue. Are we telling students they can't pursue a subject because they're too old for it" Basheer wondered sardonically.
Circular from the BCI that was sent to all colleges in September 2016:
BCI:D:_1519 (LE:Cir.-6) Date :1709.2016
of all the Universities
of all the Law College
Sub. : Revive of age restriction under Clause 28 of Legal Education Rules 2008.
It is to inform you that Clause 28 of Schedule III of Legal Education Rules 2008 which deals with age restriction for taking admission in LL.B course was notified in the Gazette of India vide Part-III, Section 4, New Delhi on 21-27 March, 2009. As per Clause 28, upper age limit for admission in LL.B three year course was 30 years and for LL.B five year course was 20 years. The relevant clause is given below :-
Age on admission:
“(a) Subject to the condition stipulated by a University on this behalf and the high degree of professional commitment required, the maximum age for seeking admission into a stream of integrated Bachelor of law degree program, is limited to twenty years in case of general category of applicants and to twenty two years in case of applicants from SC, ST and other Backward communities.
(b) Subject to the condition stipulated by a University, and the general social condition of the applicants seeking legal education belatedly, the maximum age for seeking admission into a stream of Three Year Bachelor Degree Course in Law, is limited to thirty years with right of the University to give concession of five further years for the applicant belonging to SC or ST or any other Backward Community.”
Subsequently, Bar Council of India has withdrawn Clause 28 vide resolution No. 200/2013 thereby age restriction was removed for admission in LL.B three year and five year course. Later on, withdrawal of Clause 28 was challenged before the Madurai Bench of the Hon’ble High Court of Madras in WP No. 9533/2015. The Hon’ble High Court was pleased to allow the petition and held that withdrawal of Clause 28 by the Bar Council of India was illegal. Subsequently, Bar Council of India challenged the aforesaid decision of the High Court of Madras before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India and Hon’ble Supreme Court dismissed the Special Leave Appeal (Civil) 33742 of 2015 by its Order dated 11.12.2015.
Resultantly, after the order of Hon’ble High Court and Hon’ble Apex Court, the rule under Clause 28 of Legal Education Rules 2008 has been restored.
Therefore, you are requested to kindly comply with the provision of Clause 28 of Legal Education Rules 2008.
This is for your information and necessary action.
(Ashok Kumar Pandey)
For many top lawyers, law was second option
It's true. That's the whole reason the 3-year LLB course is as popular as it is and several fathers-of-two-kids are seen carrying Law College ID tags, "Some of the top lawyers in the country did not choose law as the first option. Many a times, even women don't get the privilege of choice till much later in their lives and so take up law quite late in their lives but excel in it nevertheless," he explained.
He also pointed out that like Sam, there were millions of others who worked odd jobs, went to night school and had to cross all kinds of hurdles to even dream about being a lawyer,"Those who are well off and have the freedom of choice and good education, will finish school on time. That is not the case with most others," he lamented.
While the Supreme Court has only issued an interim stay, the student community is still anxious about the final judgement in the case and are worried the interim stay will only benefit the present petitioners in the case, like Michael Sam.