Age Bar on Legal Education in India: A Human Rights Violation
7.10.2020 | Luke Rodriguez | UCLA School of Law, US OCTOBER 6, 2020 12:43:17 PM | 93
Recently, a 77-year-old Indian woman moved to the Supreme Court of India because she was denied admission by multiple law colleges. The woman, who is passionate about the subject desired to gain knowledge by enrolling herself in a 3-year LLB course. However, to her utter dismay, she was denied admission because of the Bar Council of India Rules that sets an upper age limit of 20 and 30 years for admission in 5-years and 3-years law course respectively. Accordingly, she made a plea in an already pending issue in the case of Rishabh Duggal vs Bar Council of India (BCI). She prayed to the court to declare that the age bar set as a requirement for admission in the course to be unconstitutional.
In this article, the authors intend to analyze the provision and showcase that such an age bar to study law is inconsistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed under the Indian Constitution. Additionally, the provision also violates the international covenants that provide for the basic human rights that must be available to all.
The imposition of the age limit to get admission in the education institutes appears to be violative of Article 14 of the Indian constitution which provides for the Fundamental Right to equality to the citizens of the country. However, Article 14 provides an exception in the case where the classification among people is reasonable. The test to determine the reasonability of the classification is that it should be based on some intelligible differentia and there should be a reasonable nexus between the act of classification and the objective required to be achieved. In the authors’ opinion, the bar of maximum age for getting admission in education creates an unreasonable classification. Further, the very purpose of the Legal Education Rules, 2008 was to ensure that all individuals willing to study law get the opportunity to pursue the same. Thus, imposing the upper age limit to study law does not have reasonable nexus with the object required to be achieved. Hence, it violates the principle of the Right to Equality.
Furthermore, in the authors’ opinion, the obligation of the age limit is also violative of Article 19(1)(g) of the constitution which provides for the fundamental right to practice any profession. The barrier imposed on the admission to education institutions makes it impossible for the people above the prescribed age to practice law contradicting the right provided in Article 19(1)(g). Lastly, it is also clearly contradictory to Article 21 of the Indian Constitution which provides for the fundamental right to life. In the case of Unni Krishna v. State of A.P, the Supreme Court of India explicitly provided that the Right to Education flows from the Right to life mentioned in Article 21 by highlighting that education has transcendental importance in one’s life.
The right to education is also embodied in the international legal framework. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) provides that everyone is entitled to the right to education. It declared that primary education shall be free and compulsory, whereas, higher education shall be equally accessible to all based on merit. Further, Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) also mentions that the right to education should be available to all. It provides that higher education shall be equally accessible to all based on capacity. These principles have been recalled and reaffirmed in many international instruments including Convention against Discrimination in Education 1960.
Moreover, General Comment No. 6 (Para 36-42) on CESCR specifically deals with the issue of the rights of older people under Article 13 to 15 of the Covenant. It mentions that the right to education is also available to the elderly through various measures including access to universities. This was affirmed in General comment No. 13 on CESCR. International law supports the idea of lifelong learning at every level. Therefore, the rules that put an age bar for admissions in universities contradict the principles related to education mentioned in international law. It goes against the fundamental element of education i.e. Accessibility (Para 6, CESCR General Comment No. 13), which says that educational institutions and programs have to be accessible to everyone.
Analyzing the law prevailing in the country, it can be concluded that such age restrictions should be held unconstitutional under Article 13 of the Indian Constitution. The provided article mentions that any law which is inconsistent with the fundamental rights of the country should be held null and void. The authors agree that providing free education to this age group might not be economically feasible for the government and hence is not covered under Article 21- A of the Indian Constitution which provides for the fundamental Right to Free and Compulsory Education to the age group of 6 to 14. However, restricting people who by their own means and resources want to study law appears to be an arbitrary and unreasonable step. Further, this issue is also addressed by the international legal framework. There are various international covenants that contain similar provisions. These international obligations exist to safeguard the basic human rights of the masses and the right to education is one of the rights recognized under several conventions and declarations. These legal instruments clearly mention that everyone, irrespective of their age, is entitled to the right to education.
Furthermore, every university in India has a prescribed procedure in the form of cut-offs or exams for the selection of students in their esteemed university. The very reason for such tests or criteria undertaken by the institutes is to ensure the caliber of the students for the particular course. Hence, if the person of the older age group passes the required criteria she should not be restrained to pursue the education exclusively on the basis of her age. Lastly, the age bar to study can be criticized on moral and ethical grounds, as it is a well-known fact that learning does not have an age. The imposition of these provisions in a country like India only adds to the poverty and illiteracy of the country. Most of the people in India are not given the opportunity to study or pursue the course of their interest at a young age. The restriction of age deprives the person to follow his/her dream and hence, it should be scrapped off by the country as there is no reasonable justification behind this step.
Jayesh Advani is a penultimate year law student at National law University Odisha (India) with a keen interest in Corporate Law and Intellectual Property Law.
Shubham Gupta is a 4th-year student of National Law University Odisha (India) and is interested in Human Rights Law, International Law, Constitutional Law and Labour Law.