n a setback to the National Law School of India University (NLSIU), Bengaluru, the Supreme Court Monday quashed its decision to conduct a separate admission entrance examination – the National Law Aptitude Test (NLAT) instead of admitting students to undergraduate and postgraduate courses on the basis of their Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) scores.
A three-judge bench led by Justice Ashok Bhushan also directed the Consortium Of National Law Universities to conduct CLAT on September 28 and ensure that the entire process of declaring the results was completed as early as possible to enable the NLSIU and other National Law Universities to start their course by the middle of October 2020.
The bench, which also comprised Justices R. Subhash Reddy and M R Shah, directed the restoration of both the Vice-Chancellor of the NLSIU as Secretary of the Consortium and the Secretariat of the Consortium to NLSIU, Bengaluru.
Approval of Academic Council a must
The Court observed that the Academic Council, under the Statute of the NLSUI, had been given the power of control and general regulations and was responsible for the maintenance of standards of instruction, education and examination of the school; one of its functions, undoubtedly was to regulate the admission of students.
It, thus, held that NLSUI was required by the Statute to have obtained the recommendation of the Academic Council before proceeding to hold NLAT by issuing an admission notification dated on September 3. In the absence of the approval of the academic council, the court held, “the Admission notification dated 03.09.2020 having been issued without recommendation of Academic Council is not in accordance with the provisions of Act, 1986 and is unsustainable”.
By-laws are binding on members of the Consortium
The Court held that the bye-laws under which members were required to admit students to their law universities on the basis of CLAT for UG and PG law courses were binding on them.
“Even though obligations on members of Consortium under the Bye-Laws are not statutory obligations but those obligations are binding on the members. All members occupying a significant and important status have to conduct (themselves) in (a) fair and reasonable manner to fulfil the aspirations of thousands of students who look on these National Law Universities as institutions of higher learning, personality and career builders”, the Court held.
Statutes under which National Law Universities have been established, the Court said, cast public duties on these NLUs to function in a fair, reasonable and transparent manner. It added these institutions of higher learning were looked on by society and students with respect and great trust. All NLUs have to conduct themselves in a manner which fulfils the cause of education and maintain the trust reposed in them.
When senior advocate Arvind Datar, for NLSIU, sought to argue that by accepting the membership of the Consortium, the autonomy of its members continued to be maintained, the Court said the autonomy of member institutions did not in any manner come in the way of holding CLAT. It added that every institution maintained its autonomy as per the governing statute; the obligation to maintain the core value of the Consortium in no manner affected the autonomy of the member university.
“The core values of the Consortium aim to enhance the prestige and content of legal education. Legal education has a pivotal role in the development of the society and regulating the inter se relations between the members of the society”, the Court said.
Online Home Proctored Examination Lack Transparency
NLSIU’s admission notice had stated that the entrance test would be an online entrance examination to be held on 12.09.2020 and that the candidates would attempt the examination using a computer device at their respective locations.
The Court took note of the affidavit the Vice-Chancellor of NLSUI Prof.(Dr.) Sudhir Krishnaswamy had filed as Secretary of Consortium in the Delhi High Court in which he had said that an online test at home could not ensure transparency, the test would be completely compromised and may even be manipulated by participants and coaching centres.
The Court, therefore, said there was no reason for the Vice Chancellor’s change of mind within just a week.
“The Affidavit was sworn on 25.08.2020 by respondent No.2 and on 03.09.2020 after a week, a notification was issued for conducting NLAT permitting participants to join online examination sitting at their home. When something was not to be permitted, when home based online test could not have been permitted for CLAT-2020, the same test can also not be permitted for NLAT-2020”, the bench highlighted.
It, thus, held that permitting home-based online test could not have ensured transparency, fairness and integrity of the examination especially when the test was to be conducted for entrance into a premier Law University of the country.
“The short notice and technological requirements insisted by the University deprived a large number of students to participate in the test violating their rights under Article 14 of the Constitution of India”, the Court said.
On the issue of alleged malpractices that had taken place at NLAT, the Court said it was unnecessary for the court to enter into various materials referred to by the petitioners and to decide whether malpractices had occurred in the examination or not. “Respondent No.1 being premier University, we have no doubt that it must have taken all necessary precautions to avoid any malpractices and cheating in the examination”.
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