Author: Bishaldeep Kakati
(Advocate, Gauhati High Court)
The Constitution of India is the sacred document that actually governs the society we reside in as well as enforces us to maintain peace and harmony by making us bound under the ambit of laws, rules and regulations. The Constitution of India in article 14 highlights the concept of “Equality before Law and Equal Protection of Law and in article 39-A provides for equal justice and free legal aid. This shows that the Constitution of India is very vocal about proper implementation of laws for proper governance of the country. In fact in article 21-A, the Constitution provides for Right to Education and in article 51-A imposes a fundamental duty amongst parents or guardians to provide opportunities for education to his child between the age of six and fourteen years. Considering the importance the constitution has put on education and justice, it’s difficult to understand: why basic legal education is still not introduced as a subject/paper in most of the schools or colleges except for the law schools?
The conspicuous fact is that the education system of India has undergone dynamic changes over the years and with the coming of New Education Policy 2022, an appreciative effort has been taken by the government to introduce multidisciplinary courses right from the school days for the overall holistic development of the students. But the notion of imparting basic legal knowledge to students’ right from the school days is still not being thought of or implemented properly. In an era where students in schools are taught about biology and the various ways to keep oneself healthy, civic senses alongside social sciences, history, literature and culture so as to keep themselves updated, its pivotal that they are also given basic knowledge on law, so that they not only maintain law and order in the society and refrain from doing any activity that breaches the proper systematic running of the society but also the basic legal education if given at school level may also help them not to develop ‘mens rea’ in the fear of being penalized.
However, the concept of introducing ‘Basic Legal Education’ in schools and colleges apart from law schools might be a difficult thing as because it would be an arduous task for the course developers to understand the things to be included and those to be avoided under the framework of ‘Basic Legal Education’. The CBSE back in 2013 announced legal education as an elective subject for students of class XI and XII, but even that had significant problems associated with it like from keeping the subject to elective (which course did not serve the desired outcome related to its introduction) to the vastness of the course which included areas such as property laws, criminal laws, alternative dispute resolutions etc, too vast for the students to grasp. In reality, the concept of introducing legal education in schools, secondary levels or in non law colleges is still lacking proper planning and execution.
The alarming thing is that there has been significant rise in the number of crimes with each passing year, which is actually a threat for the society and also increases the burden on the judiciary. To site data, the capital city of Delhi itself has witnessed a significant 15% rise in crimes in 2021 as compared to 2022. Another striking data comes from the status of POCSO crimes in India. According to the latest report released in 2021, in 2019 there were 48,043 victims under POCSO as compared to 40,810 in 2018. This data on crime brings forth ‘Crime’ as a two-fold phenomenon. A significant part of the bevy is of the concept that people commit crimes knowing that they can be penalized, and although this is true to a large extent, but crimes might be committed by a significant part of the population may be without even realizing it to be a crime because of requisite information or may be because of not knowing the penal implications that might be imposed upon post that crime. A criminal with a pre existing heinous mindset is always penalized by the judiciary but if a person is penalized for doing an activity which he did not realize it to be a crime for his lack of knowledge, that is where even the judiciary is bound to realize the importance of legal education in schools and colleges.
Legal Education in schools and colleges should be introduced so as to not only make people aware of bailable or non bailable offences but also to make people aware about basic day to day stuffs that they come across. Things like provisions of FIR under section 154 CrPC, the provision of writs under article 32 and 226 of the Indian Constitution, Section 302,307,376,120(B),420 of IPC, provisions of marriage and divorce under personal laws, importance of prosecution witness in trial courts, provisions related to arrest, events to be followed after arrest of a person, prisoners rights etc. If students of schools and colleges can be made aware of basic legal things, then they can further become messengers of basic legal knowledge in the area they reside in, thereby creating a vibe amongst people about things which are for the betterment of the society and those that are derogatory. If in any future, policies are undertaken for proper implementation and introduction of legal education in schools and colleges then focus must be given to introduce the subject as a means to enlighten the students about rights, obligations, duties of both the citizens and the state rather than just making them aware about the laws that exist.
However, for all these to happen, the first and foremost thing is that policy makers must find out appropriate ways to impart basic legal education to students at a young age, without it being a pressure for the students in terms of academic curriculum. Many universities have introduced Environmental Studies in graduation as a compulsory subject, which students definitely need to pass but with the provision that marks that a student obtains in that subject shall overall not have a tremendous impact. The same policy can be applied in case of imparting basic legal education to students from non-law background as well. An another criteria to impart basic legal education to students of schools and colleges can be by field work, time to time seminars on topics of law, discussions and deliberations on provisions and working of law etc. With the entire education system taking an innovative approach to upgrade the potential and information of students, it’s important that policy makers should also give serious thoughts in imparting basic legal education to students of schools and colleges at the earliest, the benefits of which shall be manifold.
(Views are personal)