Legal Education: A Colonial Ideal

India witnessed a historic event of Independence from the British Raj in 1947, liberating itself from the shackles of European dominance and hegemony. Ever since then India has embarked upon the journey of sovereign nation-building while adopting principles to compete with the global economies.

Decolonisation is coined as a term to describe the freedom from a foreign hegemony/rule, which also relates to the liberation of the mind and will of the oppressed. The third-world countries with an experience of colonisation in the past have had a deep influence on their dominant hegemonies in the reformation of their sovereign nation. One of the major influences of the British Raj in India’s upbringing was the system of education. Education is one of the most essential aspects in the liberation of thoughts and mind, which truly determines the freedom of oneself from the influence of its superior.

The British characterized the Indians as ‘uncivilized’ and ‘savage’. In their efforts to exert administrative control over a diverse land, the British felt the need to educate the local folk in the European Studies of Administration to best suit their interests, which led to the creation of educational institutions that advocated the European System, undermining the historical and cultural values of the Indian masses.

Legal Education, or the Study of Law, has been historically inherited from the Dharma Shastras and Vedas since the Vedic ages to the present statutes and legislations. The British rule established the study of laws as a part of a vocational activity rather than an academic quest. Education had always been the implication of experience along with oral and repetitive learning, but the British had emphasized the education of Indians only for their selfish purposes, which aimed at exerting dominance over the colony. This led to the adoption of the system of rote-learning, the legal education was thus based on imbibing the bookish contents of the laws prevailing in England. The system was planned in a way that it could not provide the aspirants of law with the application of their knowledge in a practical world.

Nevertheless, India has been engaged in modification of its education policies post-Independence to accommodate the ethnic values of the past in addition to the global standards, but much has not been focused on the liberation of Legal Education from colonial ideals. The creation of National Law Universities across the country has been a major milestone in bridging the gap between the vocational and academic pursuit of legal knowledge. Yet, at the same time, the disparity in the quality of education remains what was initially adopted post-Independence, propagating the ideology of the British in the creation of ‘Intellectual Slaves’.

The purpose of legal education, at present, stands for the sole purpose of passing the Examination to obtain the Degree. The pedagogy has emphasised the Statutes and Laws, along with an adversarial mindset of adjudication, which has paved the way for students to restrict themselves in their comfort zones of mugging up the syllabus, rather than exploring the practical usage of law and the dynamism of those laws in a globalizing world. Law is intrinsic to society and caters to the need of society to change itself as per the need of the hour. Thus, research is one of the essential ingredients in the study of law as it evaluates the competency of law to eradicate the social challenges of the society and determine the flaws based on ensuring amendments for the attainment of justice. Unfortunately, present-day law schools greatly ignore the inclusion of pedagogical research in the flow of knowledge production.

The pursuit of the legal field of education remains job-centric and has a deep-rooted existence since much of the policies and principles of law schools have been the re-prints of those prevailing in the English Bar. The transition to skill development and experimental knowledge production requires much more than cramming the law and its provision or following a set of prescribed rules to pass the semester. The outdated curriculum is one of the severe drawbacks of the present dissemination of legal knowledge. The schools of law throughout the country have been reluctant to inculcate the contemporary subjects of law while at the same time, have not been ready to revise the syllabi. There has been no incentive for the students to engage in interdisciplinary research in aspects of law which has led to most graduates practising in corporate law firms for heavy pay, undermining the traditional responsibilities of earning justice to the society in various other dimensions of injustice.

There have not been many efforts by the policymakers to strategize and re-evaluate the Indian cultural values as a part of learning into contemporary studies of law. There is a need for legal research scholars to become part of the legal fraternity that educates the students because much of the faculties are those raised in knowledge through traditional educational syllabi and curriculum.

To eradicate the existing lacunae of legal knowledge production, the Bar Council of India (BCI) alongside the University Grants Commission (UGC) need to collaborate to initiate a nationwide revision of curriculum that focuses on outcome-based learning rather than content-based teaching. There is an urgency to bridge the gap between traditional approaches to law and contemporary globalisation, with much focus on Information Technology (IT) based applications of the law. Incentives must be created within the spirit of the law students to continue clinical education to acquire enhanced research practices and get on the legacy as Legal Researchers and Juris Doctors.

The assessment of students based on their performance in examinations that majorly relate to theoretical concepts of the statutes and laws has to be transformed in such a manner that it allows for formative assessment of students based on their application of provisions in a practical manner. Most of the newly established law schools have Moot Courtrooms to demonstrate and inculcate in students the etiquettes and process of litigation before a judge with a hypothetical case study in hand. However, in reality, the process of litigation in Courts of law is different from what is being taught, as the moot courts follow the guidelines based on the medieval British litigation process and mannerism of England.

Vivid interactions with prominent academicians, sitting judges, legal doctors and professors must be encouraged and organized to allow students to gain first-hand experiences and knowledge of the present scenario of legal dynamism. The focus must be laid on enhancing competency with emerging fields of law in domestic as well as international legal framework, to meet the contemporary requirements of law and justice.

Quality education is the foremost requirement for the quality delivery of justice through a competent understanding of the law. The only way to foster quality knowledge production is to cope with the dynamism of the field of law and continue to grasp the divergent views to ensure gains of the required skill set.

This leads to an important question to debate: Is Decolonization an event or a process?

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