Play the role of change agents, Vice President tells lawyers

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Venkaiah Naidu today said that lawyers have to play the role of change agents or social engineers to address the socio-economic under-currents and conflicts.

Addressing the gathering after presenting Tenth Law Teachers Day Awards at a function organized by Society of Indian Law Firms & Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training (SILF-MILT), he asked legal practitioners to continuously update their knowledge to capture the subtle nuances of laws and regulations. He said that they have to address a variety of new crimes triggered by the technological advancements and liberalization. The Attorney General of India, Shri K.K. Venugopal, the former Attorney General of India, Shri Mukul Rohatgi, the Member, Law Commission of India, Prof. S. Sivakumar and other dignitaries were present on the occasion.

Urging lawyers to play a much larger role than the conventional roles assigned to them, the Vice President asked them to make people aware of their rights and duties as well as remedies which are available to them. In today’s world, lawyers will have to undertake several roles in society and have to discharge several jobs directly or indirectly connected with law, he added.

Pointing out that new types of cases like anti-dumping and intellectual property violations need holistic knowledge of economics of pricing and market conditions, among others, he said that legal education has to be alive to these problems to address the changing roles of a legal practitioner.

Emphasizing the need to reform and impart quality legal education, the Vice President called for sharpening the competence of legal professionals, ensuring an enabling situation for research and creating legal awareness in the common man. He said that legal education has to instill the significance and relevance of fellow feeling, societal and democratic values in students, apart from ensuring a deep understanding of the Indian culture and ethos.

Observing that every citizen must have the basic understanding of law to carry out routine and ordinary things in life, the Vice President called for change in the quality, content and complexion of legal education.

The Vice President said “I believe that there can be a sort of corporate social responsibility that the legal fraternity can exercise. I am aware of a large segment of lawyers, who are socially committed despite their busy schedules in the courts and other avenues. Can their services be enlisted for giving legal aid to the needy people, who cannot afford to pay huge fees for availing of quality legal services?”, he asked.

Referring to the scant attention paid to Law of Torts in India, he said it protects people who become victims of negligence by another party. In many developed countries like the US, it is an important branch of law. “All of us are aware of how pharmaceutical and tobacco companies have to part with huge damages if negligence is proved in the court of law. May be the time has come for us to invoke such liabilities in the Indian context as well to protect the genuine interests of consumers”, the Vice President said.

 The Vice President gave away one SILF-MILT Best Teacher Award, one SILF-MILT Legal Education Innovation Award, one SILF-MILT Institutional Excellence Award 2018, two SILF-MILT Best Law Student Awards 2018 and five SILF-MILT South Asia Legal Education Excellence Awards 2018.

Following is the text of Vice President’s address:

I deem it a privilege to be in the midst of this august gathering of distinguished legal luminaries, legal faculty, practicing lawyers, researchers and law students.

At the outset, let me compliment two leading legal luminaries who have conceived and instituted this award- Dr Lalit Bhasin, President, Society of Indian Legal Firms, who, I understand, is going to take over as the President, Society of World Law Firms shortly and Prof. NR Madhava Menon, who is a doyen in the field of legal education and the founder director of India’s first National Law School in Bangalore and National Judicial Academy, Bhopal. It is befitting that the SILF instituted the annual awards for law teachers in the name of Prof. N R Madhava Menon, who gave a new direction to legal education through the five year integrated LLB program and the successful establishment of the first ever law university at Bangalore in 1987 (NLSIU).My special compliments to both of them and wish they would continue to contribute immensely to the law and law education.

Legal education has undergone dramatic transformation in recent times. At the same time, law is not limited to lawyers alone. Its stakeholders are ever increasing.

Basic understanding of law is a must for every citizen. Each one of us needs an understanding of the law to carry out routine and ordinary things in life. This calls for change in the quality, content and complexion of legal education.

However, our primary focus is on lawyers, no matter how they groom up in life –  a jurist, law enforcer or a practicing lawyer. Legal education should produce lawyers with social vision and commitment.

Education will have to instill the significance and relevance of fellow feeling, societal and democratic values in students, apart from ensuring a deep understanding of the Indian culture and ethos.

In today’s world, lawyers will have to undertake several roles in society and have to discharge several jobs directly or indirectly connected with law. As policy makers-every legislator has to have a good grounding in law and legal implications. So is the case with administrators, policemen etc. Legal practitioners have to continuously update their knowledge to capture the subtle nuances of laws and regulations, which are continuously unfolding. An equally challenging responsibility is cast on jurists/judges who have to absorb the changing paradigms dictated by technology and ever accumulating new knowledge.

An administrator will feel grossly handicapped without a better insight into the legal framework, in which he or she has to operate. A legal researcher will be hamstrung if his knowledge is not updated on a day to day basis.  Against this backdrop, we have to introspect whether our legal education is keeping pace with the challenges of a modern society? Could we afford a dispensation where quality legal education is accessed by a privileged few denying masses that advantage?

Law education during the British days was aimed at creating lawyers who could help the lower courts and high courts in the administration of justice. Now, the lawyers have to play the role of change agents or social engineers addressing the socio-economic under currents and conflicts. They have to address a variety of new crimes triggered by the technological advancements and liberalization. New types of cases like anti-dumping, intellectual property violations relating to  patents, trademark etc need a holistic knowledge of economics of pricing, market conditions, how economic injury is inflicted by cheap imports into the host country, subsidy elements received by the exporters in other countries to undersell products in the importing countries etc. Legal education has to be alive to these problems to address the changing roles of a legal practitioner.

Let me make it clear I am not a votary of filing of public interest litigations (PILs) at the fall of a hat. But PILs filed in the Supreme Court or High Court for enforcement of fundamental rights are important in ensuring civil rights. That would mean that the lawyers have to play a much larger role than the conventional roles assigned to them. They have to make the people aware of their rights and duties as well as remedies which are available to them when they are exploited.

Legal education should expand and improve its scope. It is not merely study of law and legislation but study of various procedures of law. There can be three systems for imparting or reforming law education. One is sharpening the professional competence of legal professionals, who handle multitudes of litigations in the courts. The second is an extension of the first and that is creating an enabling situation for research, which is important to carry out course corrections in our legal systems and to evolve new legislations as warranted by time and situations. There are many laws and regulations, which are archaic and have lost the relevance in the modern world. Also, there may be many pieces of legislations that the present world demands such as strong cyber laws, which should ensure security and safety for all sections of people, while they are doing business, or carrying out jobs connected with the government or any other agencies. Their data has to be protected and safeguarded. It is the job of the researchers to study human behavior, comparative laws and regulations in other countries and suggest measures for making our laws address the emerging situations.

The third important aspect is the legal awareness and education that has to be imparted to the common man. We have to make each citizen aware of the laws, procedures and the importance of complying with them in letter and spirit.  This, I believe, should start from the school so that the younger generation gets to know both their rights and duties.

I believe that there can be a sort of corporate social responsibility that the legal fraternity can exercise. I am aware of a large segment of lawyers who are socially committed despite their busy schedules in the courts and in other avenues. Can their services be enlisted for giving legal aid to the needy people, who cannot afford to pay huge fees for availing quality legal services? Can we motivate the brilliant brains in the legal profession to devote a few hours in a week or a month to take up the issues of the common man to get him/her justice in time?

Legal education should be made holistic. In the present world, a lawyer has to handle cases of various nature and implications. For instance, cyber laws and intellectual property violations need a greater understanding of the technology, international laws, trade laws and a number of new areas and legislations. The introduction of five year integrated courses, to some extent, has addressed these issues, but I believe not adequately. It is not merely a base level knowledge that is required for handling such cases in a globalized world. There are many multinational corporations operating in our country. It is a common knowledge that some of them are asking for changing our laws. Our law graduates should have a good grasp of laws in other countries and be able to weigh the pros and cons in an analytical manner.

The other important area that I want to flag is the wide variance in the quality of law education in India. We have to make serious efforts to impart good quality education. That is possible only when we have good teachers and researchers, whose services can be enlisted by these institutions.  Teaching as a profession should be promoted and made attractive, particularly in the legal domain. There is a feeling that there is reluctance on the part of people to join the teaching profession by abandoning the lucrative income, they get as a practicing professional or by joining law firms. Here, technology can be helpful. There should be facilities for conducting virtual classes, wherein colleges can rope in leading lawyers, jurists and subject specialists to give lectures through virtual media and can be beamed to class rooms. The role of moot courts and competitions among law schools can also greatly help in improving the education across the board.

An area that has received scant attention in India is the Law of Torts. Law of Torts protects people who become victims of negligence by another party.  In many developed countries like the US, it is an important branch of law.  All of us are aware of how pharmaceutical and tobacco companies have to part with huge damages if negligence is proved in the court of law. May be the time has come for us to invoke such liabilities in Indian context as well to protect the genuine interest of consumers.

Before, I conclude let me congratulate award winners of this year and hope that this would motivate them to work harder and scale greater heights. We must continuously keep raising the bar and strive harder to achieve the ambitious goals we have collectively set for ourselves.

 Jai Hind!”

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AKT/BK/RK

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