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India must aspire to provide world class legal education through a “dramatic reform” of the present system to improve the economic environment and ensure citizens get speedy and affordable access to justice, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Saturday.

“We must dream if we want to make progress of having a world class educational system. Law universities should be a part of our national ambition,” he said at an event at the Vigyan Bhavan here attended among others by Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily and Chief Justice of India K.G. Balakrishnan.

Inaugurating the National Consultation for Second Generation Reforms in Legal Education, Manmohan Singh said he had “a vision” that the new South Asian University to be established by the Indian government with other South Asian countries “would ultimately expand to include an outstanding law faculty with an eminent global faculty.

“Our new five-year law schools across India have shown that we are second to none when we make up our mind but we have to spread this excellence for ensuring inclusive legal education,” he added.

Speaking of the need to reform the legal education system, Manmohan Singh said: “If we are to have a society… where the common man and common woman gets speedy and affordable access to justice, if we are to have in our country the turbulence in effect of the rule of law, if we are to have an economic environment where contracts are easily enforceable, then we must ensure that our law teachers, practicing advocates, corporate legal luminaries, legal advisors, judicial officers and legal facilitators are indeed men and women of very high intellectual caliber.

“And this is possible only if there is dramatic reform and improvement in the scope and quality of our legal education system.”

Noting that India had a “small number of dynamic and outstanding law schools”, Manmohan Singh, however, lamented that “they remain islands of excellence amidst a sea of institutionalized mediocrity”.

“We are not even marginally nearer to profound scholarship and enlightened research in law.”

Recalling the words of then president S. Radhakrishnan that “our colleges of law do not hold a place of high esteem either at home or abroad, nor has law become an area of profound scholarship and enlightened research”, Manmohan Singh said: “It’s no doubt we have traveled a long distance since that time. But we must admit and have to ask honestly ourselves whether we have significantly altered the landscape of our legal education system.

“As we and we must introspect honestly, we must sadly accept that Radhakrishnan’s powerful yet poignant words may not be amenable to any radical restatement even today,” he said.

He said action “on many fronts” was required to reform and improve India’s legal education system to meet the needs of the growing economy and “a knowledge society that we wish to become”.

Pointing to the “serious problem” of too few law teachers of quality, he said: “The sad reality is that when we look for experts to head new law schools and the new faculties, we have precious few to choose from.”

Thus, there was the “obvious need” to provide “more uniform but calibrated and better salaries, accompanied by considerably improved terms of service for our teachers”, he added.

Echoing the prime minister’s remarks, Chief Justice Balakrishnan said: “Many of our law colleges and departments are perennially cash-strapped and struggle to retain qualified and motivated law-teachers.”

“Some colleges also function in a highly politicized environment, where serious academic pursuits often take a backseat. Instead of establishing more colleges, the first priority should be to ensure that a basic standard of legal education is being delivered in the existing colleges,” Balakrishnan said.

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