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Language Reforms In The Indian Legal Education System

In contemporary times when Legal education is gaining importance as a very rich and progressive field of education, its language of instruction is becoming a major hindrance in its accessibility to every scholar who desires to study the discipline. Being a language diversified nation, it is a serious issue of debate for us to decide the medium of instruction for the field, which will satisfy everyone's needs and make it accessible to all.

The technical English which is the language of law and medium of instruction in legal education, not being our language possess a lot of problem to us. On the other hand, we cannot make one Indian language the language of law for the nation, which inhabits such a diversified population. So, to answer the question we have to think of such a solution without any conflicts and being efficient solve the issue.

Language is the way we have spread knowledge and is also how we’ve learned what is taught. We know the importance of language and its role in learning. But in a country such as India where so many languages are spoken, the majority of our knowledge comes to us in one language, which is English or Hindi which is the “majority’s language”. This is an effect to three causes, historical, administrative & political. The three often overlap over one another.

History tells us that the language problem existed since the time of the British rule itself. Lord Macaulay made a recommendation in 1835 to make English as the main language of study so that an English speaking minority is created which will be loyal to the empire. English was also made mandatory for anyone applying for a Government Service. This institutionalized the language and automatically created a barrier for the non – English speaking public.

When we were at the stage of writing our Constitution, Hindi was chosen as the only medium to do so as it was the majority’s language. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is on record when he spoke about why everyone should learn Hindi and make it their main language. He thought that if everyone in this nation speaks one language, then we will have in a true sense one India. This trend changed only when leaders like Ram Manohar Lohiya spoke against the same and supported the idea of having a diverse set of languages among the people of India. He never thought that we needed one language to have one nation of India.

Thus the Constitution was then also drafted in English for the people who did not know Hindi. This was seen as a utilitarian solution for people living in South India who did not want Hindi to be imposed on them. To make the environment inclusive for people coming from different linguistic backgrounds, the administration began to work in English. This effect was trickled down into all forms of official administration. This, unfortunately, decided the fate of language for teaching students in our legal institutions.

This paper is not an attack on the English language. It discusses the effects it has on one when the stigma of not knowing this language has on learning. In this paper, we intend to discuss the people who are excluded from the quality education of Law due to the language barriers the legal education system in India has adopted and thus suggest pragmatic reforms on the same.

Causes and effects
Ignorantia juris non excusat meaning Ignorance of law was no excuse, the basic principle of justice made it necessary for the colonial rulers to make the people understand and comprehend the laws made by them. As the laws were in English became important for the Coloniser to teach the colonized both the language and the law. Thus, with the establishment of 1st law college in Bombay i.e.  The Government Law College of Bombay in 1855[1] began the legal education system in India to teach English laws in the English language.

After Independence in 1947, among the many questions and reforms regarding the established legal education system of British India, one was that “What should be the medium of teaching law?’ This led to a conflict between the politician and educationist. However, the Chagla committee suggested that “The language of the law and the language of the courts in English and there is no doubt that proficiency in English is necessarily required for a law student.”[2]

The Indian Secondary Education (Mudalidar) Commission also said that, “… until the books are written in regional language replace books now available in a foreign language, it is inevitable for the students to have a good knowledge of English to study the subjects in the books available in the language.”[3] Finally the First Indian law conference resolved that the medium of legal education for the time to be English.[4]

In many countries, the language of legal education is the language of the country only. But in India from the time of Independence till now the medium of entrance examination of law schools, the medium of instruction in legal education and most of the works of Indian courts are continuing in English. There are many reasons which have prevented India from moving towards an Indian language based legal education.

Although our national pride demands the medium of legal education to be in our own language only the nation pride stands nowhere in front of national unity. The linguistic diversity of the nation and its related controversies has never allowed one Indian language to be the medium of instruction in the legal field. Also, to keep the label of Aristocracy intact to the profession of law, the present generation of lawyers, jurists and many influential academic professors well trained in English could not appreciate a native language to replace the former.

The Constitution of India, laws of the land, proceedings in the higher courts, judgments, case reports, major commentaries almost everything is in English. Moreover, a total absence of any material or literature of law in our languages and wide availability of the same in English, which is also multiplying day by day makes it difficult for us to translate those in our languages. Another contributing factor is the unavailability of technical legal vocabulary in an Indian language which makes it difficult to express precise ideas and technical legal concepts. Thus, preventing us from removing English from the sphere and replacing it with another substitute.

The Government’s lack of emphasis on the field of law in general and on legal education, in particular, can also be attributed to the reason for this scenario. While the government is looking into the fields of engineering and medicine as a good spot for investment, it is not thinking the same for the law. The allocation of funds and planning in this field is comparatively low as compared to others.

And without proper and intensive planning with sufficient funds, the medium of legal education as well as language of law and courts cannot be changed.

On the other hand, English as a medium of legal education is depriving a huge portion of the students of opting for the law as a course of study. As per the latest All India School Education Survey by NCERT, Hindi is the medium of instruction at 51.45 percent of schools in India at higher secondary stage whereas English is the language of instruction at about 33.06 percent of schools.[5] and among the whole student population, only 17% goes to an English medium school.[6]

In most of the government English medium schools, the real medium of instruction still remains the native language. So logically this system is putting 83% of students at a lower stance. While 11 lakhs students are sitting for JEE and 13 lakhs for NEET, only 60,000 students are going for CLAT. While the former two offers a bilingual paper, the later offers a paper on one language only i.e. English, which is one of the factors for such a smaller number of students opting for the discipline of law which is one of the most prestigious fields of education in the world.

Whereas those without a good hold on the language enter the law schools find it difficult to sustain. The fact could not be ignored that English is not the mother tongue of Indians, even for the English educated. In the report of the examiners of Bombay University for the LL.B. degree, it was mentioned that “One of the defects in the work of the examinees was their inability to express in clear language what they have in their mind.”[7]

This was a case in one of the presidency towns where the average standard of English is higher than the rest of the country. In the year 1967, less than 10 percent of fresh law students at Banaras Hindu University knew English well enough to explain the meaning of a simple sentence in a court opinion. Thus, it is almost impossible for students to learn law in a language in which they can neither think or express themselves.

This reduces the classroom study of law to a mere lecture method where a student is not able to understand things, analyze the laws and express their views. Finally, they end up spending most of their energies in memorizing and cramming, rather than thinking, analyzing and understanding the legal problems. This makes the study of law and sustenance in a law school more difficult for them. And the actual problem they face is during the practice. When they step on the practical fields of work, these lecture method of teaching and rote learning fails. Moreover, as the language of the Clients and that of lower courts will be in the regional language, the expertise in English does not work there.

Now the question arises What can be done?
For that, we have to look into different aspects of the nation. India is a diverse country. Having 22 Scheduled languages the country is home to more than 19,500 mother tongues (as per data released by The Registrar General and Census Commissioner, India), however, 97% of the population has one of the scheduled languages as their mother tongue.

Out of these Hindi is spoken by 40% of the population while English is considered as a mother tongue by a meager 1% of the population. Still most of the official work of the government and all the cases dealt by The High Court and Supreme Court are in the English Language.

Therefore in order to practice law one needs to be well versed in English. Even the Bar Council of India in its Proposed Direction for reforms in Legal Education has emphasized the medium of instruction at all law schools would be English and this would be a mandatory and strict requirement for accreditation of the law school.

Even though the teaching of law has been in English for more than a century, a majority of India Law Students feel that it is difficult to understand the explanations and discussions in English, it is difficult for them to think in English and still more difficult to write in legal English. Hence the demand to remove English from Legal Education to its daily usage practice in courts looks reasonable.

The present government and even the previous governments tried to replace the English from the Higher education, Law and other fields and from official government work as well by the most dominantly spoken language that is Hindi. But what they fail to recognize was that even Hindi was not spoken by the majority of the population. As shown in the reports of Registrar General and Census Commissioner - Although 40% of the population claims Hindi as its mother tongue, the notion of Hindi language is different for many people coming under the 40% category.

Hindi or Hindustani which is a mix verse of Hindi and Urdu written in as many as 750 dialects is included under this head, hence the majority of the population does not speak a uniform or standardized form of Hindi language whereas English on other hand is prevalent in one fixed standard form all over the country. President Ram Nath Kovind has urged that all the judgments of The High Courts and Supreme Court be made available in regional language however no such progress has been made in this regard. But merely imposing Hindi as a national language will not solve the problem but in fact, has the potential to make the situation worse. As the country has already witnessed from the Anti-Hindi agitations in the years 1935 and 1965 when the government had tried to introduce Hindi as a compulsory language in the presidency of Madras.

Hence the problem to spread legal education cannot be solved by changing the language but by a careful analysis of other problems. It is true that there exists a language divide in the legal profession which acts as a hindrance for a majority of the population to understand this field. But it should also be noted that the exclusion of masses is not only because of the language divide but by profession divide as well.

For example, a person who is well versed in English will still not be able to interpret the constitution in a way in which a lawyer is capable of understanding the text of it. J The profession divide is the reason why English is able to maintain its hegemony in the legal sector. If we need to make legal education accessible to masses than we need to answer this complexity of legal language.

The complex legal work in English needs to be converted into simple English language. And this simplified language can be then interpreted into various regional languages. The reason English is able to survive for 200 years still continues after independence is not because it was imposed on us by the British but because of its utility. It is seen as an alien language not associated with any religion or a particular state and hence its continuation as a national language did not meet such protest as in the case of Anti-Hindi agitations. Further, India adopted laws developed by the British in the English language hence this language is able to handle the technicalities and complexities of the subject which may or may not be addressed by Hindi or any other regional language.

The complexity of a legal language arises because of four reasons:
  1. The use of Latin, and sometimes French, words, and phrases to express a rule, principle, doctrine, maximum, etc. which can be easily phrased in English
  2. The use of obsolete, archaic or old English words which have passed from the English language but have been kept alive by their frequent use in the Legal profession.
  3. The practice of assigning common English words a new, different, unusual and purely legal meaning  or assigning these words some exclusive legal definitions and
  4. the ridiculed tendency of legal professionals both lawyers and judges to write often long and complex sentences without any punctuation.
Often lawyers in preparing documents for their clients try to follow the theory that the longer the document the wordier it is the better it becomes. They are often encouraged to draft long complicated documents with a flowery language. This shows that legal language is complicated not only for a common man but also for lawyers and law students as well. This has resulted in common people avoiding the services of lawyers in such conditions which can prove grave consequences for the person himself. All this creates an impression that a lawyer does nothing more than a mere manipulation of words.

It is agreed that a profession like law, engineering, physicist, philosophy requires special words as there are no other words which can substitute them but law deals with a human being’s relationship with another human, his society and with his government hence they do not require day-to-day events, Latin and French terms.

In the words of Samuel Butler who criticizes the use of complex language – “Some writers have the unhappines, or rather Prodigious Vanity, to affect an obscurity in their Stiles, indevouring by all means not to be understood, but rather like witches to cast a mist before the eies of their Readers .... To write not to be understood is no less than vaine than to speak and not to be heard.”
The language of law should be cleaned up so that any person of average intelligence can understand its meaning and the forms of unclear past should be brought up to date with today’s jet age and it would seem logical enough. It is true that not all documents, pleadings can be put in clear words for everyone but many things dealt by lawyers can be phrased in everyday non-legal language.

The legal language can be simplified by using the following steps. It should be insisted that the laws written by the legislatures can be made understandable to average laymen as well as to the legal professional, these laws must be written in non-technical terms, legislatures should use short sentences with adequate punctuations, the use of Latin and French phrases should be abandoned, the use of obsolete archaic English words should be abandoned and at last, the same meaning of words should be applied to those legal terms as the same meaning in common usage.

Hence laws should be simplified in the English language and then from this standard English, they should be converted into other regional languages so that the masses can benefit and the true meaning of legal education can be achieved.

It is true that language acts as a barrier in the spread of Legal education however language barrier coupled with profession barrier acts as the real challenge. The unnecessary usage of complex legal language makes it difficult for common masses to avail of the benefit of the law and are left helpless in front of those who are able to use this complexity to their advantage. If the complexity issue is addressed than English instead of acting as a barrier will end up helping in the spread of Legal education as English retains its standard form all across the country and can be then interpreted into various regional languages addressing the concerns of the whole country effectively.

  1. Karwe, History of the Government Law College, Bombay, 9 Law College Magazine 1 (1938)
  2. Report of Bombay Legal education Committee, 1949
  3. The Indian Secondary Education (Mudalidar) Commission Report, 1952-53
  4. J.K. Bhavnani, Legal Education in India, Journal of Indian Law Institute, Volume 4 (1962), 167-190
  5. All India School Education Survey By NCERT, 8th edition (2016), 29
  6. Only 17% children in India go to English-medium schools, DNA, December 1 2016
  7. Aggarwal, A. P. (1959). Legal education in India. Journal of Legal Education, 12(2), 231-248.

Written By:
  1. Harsh N. Dudhe - 1st Year, Nalsar university of law, Ph no: 8431492370, E-mail- [email protected]
  2. Harsh Jain - 1st Year, Nalsar university of law, Mob: 7230881286, E. mail- [email protected]
  3. Pratyush Kumar Pradhan - 1st Year, Nalsar university of law, Institution Affiliated to: NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, Mob: 8763300086, E. mail- [email protected]

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