Education December 7, 2020
Justice Chandrachud’s remarks regarding exclusion of disabled people from legal profession could open doors for aspirants
Starting with the law entrance tests to campuses, people with disabilities aspiring to study law face multiple barriers. Something that Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud brought up recently prodding the Consortium of National Law Universities to finally promise action.
Sachin Porwal, a visually impaired Class 11 student, is preparing to take the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) in 2022. At the beginning of 2020, the Consortium of National Law Universities (NLUs) announced a change in the exam pattern.
“The pattern has changed from direct questions to comprehension- based ones and the math section is now based on data interpretation of graphs without any alternative provided to visually impaired aspirants”, says Sachin, who lives in Udaipur.
Now he has reason to hope that he can take the exam on an equal footing with non-disabled aspirants. Following Supreme Court Justice DY Chandrachud’s remarks commenting on the CLAT not taking into account “the unique challenges of the disabled test-takers”, the Consortium has promised to address inequalities in the test pattern.
Disabled law students face many barriers
Justice Chandrachud made the remarks at a valedictory address at an international summit on the theme Legal Professionals with Disabilities on the International Day for Persons with Disabilities 2020.. His exact words were – ”The tests that serve as entry points to enter the legal profession, most notably the CLAT are set out in a way that does not account for the unique challenges faced by disabled test-takers and places them in a disadvantageous position vis-à-vis their able-bodied counterparts”.
In a day came this response from Professor Faizan Mustafa, President, NLU Consortium. Speaking to LiveLaw, he said the Consortium believes “in giving. Level-playing field to everyone. It would never deny equality of opportunity to anyone”. He also said the matter would be discussed soon in an Executive Committee meeting.
The irony is not lost on Maitreya Shah, a visually impaired lawyer practising in Ahmedabad. A student of Gujarat National Law University (GNLU), Maitreya has repeatedly petitioned the Consortium to make the CLAT accessible.
There are many of us who have written to the Consortium regarding CLAT’s inaccessibility. I have personally written to the Convenor of the old and new bodies year after year but no one responded. Now because a person of Justice Chandrachud’s stature said this, the Consortium talks about a level playing field. I thank Justice Chandrachud but have been utterly disappointed with the Consortium’s attitude.- Maitreya Shah, Visually impaired lawyer
These barriers come in the way of persons with disabilities entering the legal profession, says M Karpagam, the first visually impaired female lawyer in the Madras High Court. “They lack adequate means and opportunity to study law and practice the same. The decision to consider alternative questions would provide an opportunity to many students with disability, especially visual disability”.
Repeated petitions ignored
In his address, Justice Chandrachud went beyond CLAT and talked about the larger barriers disabled law students face. “When it comes to internships and participating in law school life, the disabled must face the prospect of having to deal with unfounded biases, a lack of an understanding of their actual needs. …Our law schools must develop mechanisms and cells like the Equal Opportunity Cell ..to address the unique needs of disabled students…”
Much of the credit for bringing these issues to Justice Chandrachud’s attention goes to Advocate Rahul Bajaj, a visually impaired lawyer who is working as the judge’s clerk.
Sachin says he now feels more confident about taking the CLAT. “This is great news for the disabled community. Many of us are choosing law not only because it’s a good career choice but there’s potential for advocacy when t comes to disability rights.”
Greater participation by people with disabilities in the legal profession is good news for the community on the whole says Karpagam. “There would be sensitisation about the issues faced by persons with disability, both among the common public and Judges which would eventually help in developing the disability jurisprudence through courts”.