Bid to weed out fake lawyers; BCI launches country-wide verification process

New Delhi: Fake lawyers? Suspecting that a large number of advocates hold fake degrees, the legal education regulator, Bar Council of India, has launched a country-wide verification process.

The BCI has also imposed a three-year ban on new colleges during which it will take stock. It will plan the development of new colleges and shut down “non-performing” ones.

Satish Abarao Deshmukh, vice-chairman, BCI, said that 30 colleges have been served show-cause notices for flouting faculty-recruitment norms and may be facing closure.

Here are the questions he answered for clarity.

Q. The Bar Council of India has found close to 112 lawyers holding fake law degrees. How did this happen?

A. Till 1961 [when the Advocates Act was passed], law colleges were under the ambit of universities. Each university had its own set of rules. There was no uniform rule for all the universities and colleges. We [the BCI] gradually developed the rules and got them approved by Parliament. Now we are inspecting the colleges also. We enrol the students of those colleges that follow our rules and take approval from us regularly in the Bar Councils. Those who don't comply with our rules, we don't enrol them. Like recently, we have refused to enrol students of two colleges in Maharashtra in the Bar Council. The universities which have not taken BCI's affiliation are fake and the students with a degree from these universities or institutes hold fake degrees.

Q. How many such colleges and universities are there?

A. In five to six months' time we should be able to tell you how many universities or colleges are there. In some time, we will de-recognise all those colleges and universities which do not fulfil the rules of Bar Council of India. We should be able to identify all such universities or colleges in the next six months.

Q. How did this issue come up?

A. In 2014-2015, some people had raised questions over the law degree of the then law minister of Delhi, Jitender Singh Tomar. They were saying that the degree he possessed was fake. An investigation was done and the degree he possessed turned out to be fake. Tomar was finally arrested on June 9, 2015. So that was when the issue of fake law degrees surfaced. As the probe began, we saw many more who did not fulfill the norms required for professional lawyers.

There were lawyers from Delhi, Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh about whose degrees there was confusion. The verification process started in 2016. The Supreme Court then asked us to identify and verify all degrees. We decided to give the work to State Bar Councils. Verification is their job.

Q. What kind of punishment is awarded for such an offence?

A. Those who possess such fake degree are charged under Section 420 (cheating), 467 (forgery of valuable security), 468 (forgery for cheating), 471 (using as genuine a forged document) and 109/120B (abetment of criminal conspiracy) of Indian Penal Code (IPC). They will have to face seven years of imprisonment.

Q. The BCI President has said that over 30 percent of lawyers have fake degrees. Is the problem much larger than it looks?

A. Those who possess a fake degree will never fill the verification form. We had started the process in 2015-2016 through State Bar Councils. At that time we had 16 lakh lawyers and we expected 16 lakh filled forms to come back. But we have received only about 11 lakh filled forms. The rest did not fill the form. So we have again asked them to fill up. Those who are genuine they will fill up, the fake degree holders will not.

Q. What is the status of the probe now?

A. This is a long procedure because these guys are registered from the year 1961. It was difficult to verify lawyers, colleges and universities from the year 1961. We did not have rules for that either. Then we had to come up with rules for that. The rules were first made and then they were sent to State Bar Councils. So, the process of framing the rules and sending them to the State Bar Councils happened in 2016. Again, in 2018, all the State Bar Councils went for elections and the verification work was disrupted. Now that the elections are over, we have started the process again. We feel that in one year's time we will be able to get a clearer picture of the number of fake lawyers in the country.

Q. How many colleges or universities have you de-recognised?

A. We have not absolutely de-recognised the universities or colleges. It's a question of the future of the students who have already taken admission in them. Also, the investment that has gone into building these colleges. We have just given them show-cause notices. We have also asked them to fulfill the compliance required in the next two to three months' time. There are around 30 colleges to whom we have served show-cause notices.

Q. What measures has the BCI taken to prevent the recurrence of such violations?

A. We have put a ban on permissions for new law colleges for the next three years. In the next three years, we will come up with a framework for new law colleges — how they should be. In the next three years, we are also closing down non-performing colleges. But opportunities will be given to those colleges which show some kind of improvement.

Q. Even now there are many law colleges where students take admission on paper and just write examinations and get a degree. How can BCI prevent this?

A. We are careful about this. Now we have made it mandatory for a student to have at least 70 percent attendance. Also to achieve this 70 percent attendance, the teachers should also be regular. So we have asked the colleges that they need to send us the bank details every month to prove they are paying salaries to the teachers as per the UGC guidelines. If these terms are not adhered to then the college will be de-recognised.

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