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 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.”
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.” Finally the First Indian law conference resolved that the medium
of legal education for the time to be English.
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. and among the whole student population, only 17% goes to an
English medium school.
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.”
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
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
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
The complexity of a legal language arises because of four reasons:
- The use of Latin, and sometimes French, words, and phrases to express a
rule, principle, doctrine, maximum, etc. which can be easily phrased in
- 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
- The practice of assigning common English words a new, different, unusual
and purely legal meaning or assigning these words some exclusive legal
- 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
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
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.
- Karwe, History of the Government Law College, Bombay, 9 Law College
Magazine 1 (1938)
- Report of Bombay Legal education Committee, 1949
- The Indian Secondary Education (Mudalidar) Commission Report, 1952-53
- J.K. Bhavnani, Legal Education in India, Journal of Indian Law
Institute, Volume 4 (1962), 167-190
- All India School Education Survey By NCERT, 8th edition (2016), 29
- Only 17% children in India go to English-medium schools, DNA, December 1
- Aggarwal, A. P. (1959). Legal education in India. Journal of Legal
Education, 12(2), 231-248.
- Harsh N. Dudhe - 1st Year, Nalsar university of law, Ph no: 8431492370,
E-mail- [email protected]
- Harsh Jain - 1st Year, Nalsar university of law, Mob: 7230881286, E.
mail- [email protected]
- Pratyush Kumar Pradhan - 1st Year, Nalsar university of law, Institution
Affiliated to: NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, Mob: 8763300086, E.
mail- [email protected]