On 3 March, the Supreme Court stayed the operation of a circular issued in September by the Bar Council of India, or BCI, that imposed age limits on people enrolling for law degree programmes in the country. The circular barred anyone above the age of 20 from entering five-year programmes, and anyone above 30 from entering three-year programmes (with relaxations for students from communities entitled to reservations). The court’s decision came as a relief to those who had been affected by the rule, which has a tumultuous history.
The BCI, which is responsible for regulating both legal education and the legal profession in India, first introduced the rule in 2008. It was challenged in multiple courts in the years that followed. Confusingly, different courts reached varying conclusions about the legality of the rule: the Madras High Court upheld it as valid and constitutional, but the Bombay High Court and the Punjab and Haryana High Court struck it down as unconstitutional. Then, in September, the BCI issued a circular declaring that the rule was “restored.”
The situation has also long been muddled by the BCI’s failure to explain what an individual’s age has to do with their suitability for a law course. Its members and lawyers have made vague statements about improving “quality” and ensuring “commitment” to the profession, but the BCI has never made a cogent case for the rule.