The role of clinical legal education in human rights lawyering in India

Paper presented at the 2015 CLEA Conference in Glasgow

Sarasu Esther Thomas and Bhargavi Raman
National Law School of India University

Clinical legal education is at the forefront of legal education in India at present. Law professors, students, legal practitioners and researchers alike are waking up to the fact that legal education ought to be directed towards developing the perception, attitude, skills and sense of responsibility which budding lawyers are expected to assume on the completion of their education.
Human rights lawyering poses a unique challenge in such a setting. Educating students in the classroom environment about human rights is one thing but it is another thing altogether to communicate the challenges posed in the real world. Clinical legal education within the field of human rights seeks to bridge this gap by exposing law students to the realities of their day and inspiring them to be lawyers who can be the difference.
There exist several models of human rights law clinics in India of which the most common is the Legal Aid Society or a Legal Services Clinic within law schools that is largely student run and autonomous. Other efforts are most often directed towards legal literacy or legal aid camps. The different levels of engagement that students in human rights clinics abroad experience, has also been looked into in order to understand what it is that these students are exposed to, what they learn, and how the legal education in their universities allow for an immersive learning experience, the kind from which that they take away something meaningful. The clinical programs in some other countries are many years ahead in comparison to their counterparts in India in the sense that there is great involvement and seriousness on parts of both the faculty and students towards offering quality legal aid to the marginalized sections.
The present paper examines the current framework in Indian law universities and law colleges, to assess the extent to which the law schools in India provide for such an experience, and the limitations and difficulties faced by them towards providing an involving platform for the implementation of human rights law clinics in the country.   The paper also endeavors to evolve a number of best practices and strategies that law schools in India can follow to implement human rights law clinics. Faculty as well as members of judicial academies and Bar Councils have been consulted to examine possibilities of integration of human rights law clinics into syllabi across law schools, and to prepare a draft human rights clinical course keeping with the Bar Council of India curriculum guidelines, and to circulate the drafts to Universities whose teachers might be interested to introduce the content and pedagogy on an experimental basis to test its viability.

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