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The maverick who changed India's legal education

February 10, 2020 14:24 IST
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Whenever the history of India's National Law Schools is written, N R Madhava Menon's name will be deeply inscribed in it, says Mohammad Zeeshan Ahmad.

On the eve of Republic Day, the Government of India announced that Professor N R Madhava Menon would be posthumously awarded the Padma Bhushan for public service.

Professor Menon passed away on May 8, 2019. He was 84 and left behind swathes of deep and insightful scholarship for generations to come.

The monumental role he played in the conceptualisation and realisation of various National Law Schools in India marked a renaissance in legal education and for this he will be remembered for generations to come.

The passion for law did not dawn on Professor Menon all of a sudden. It came piecemeal.

The institutes with which he was associated his entire life chiselled him.

Be it the Aligarh Muslim University from where he did his LLM and PhD or be it the Campus Law Centre, New Delhi, where he taught and was later head of the department.

'The training and scholarship at Aligarh Muslim University shaped my career which I continued even after I left with an LLM and PhD degree', Professor Menon acknowledged in his memoir, Turning Point.

IMAGE: Professor N R Madhava Menon presents the report on the draft National Policy on Criminal Justice to then Union home minister Shivraj V Patil, August 1, 2007. Photograph: Press Information Bureau

Professor Menon was the harbinger of the National Law School movement in India.

It was because of his unflinching resolve and undiminishing vision that some of India's National Law Schools finds a place in the legal map of the world.

It is to his credit that a three year LLB course that was considered quite mundane and had been stereotyped as the domain of a particular class of people in the post-Independence era became a much sought after profession with the advent of National Law Schools.

In the early 1980s, the Bar Council of India decided to start a model law university so that legal education could become socially relevant and professionally useful.

The 14th Law Commission report stated that 'The main purpose of university legal education seems hitherto to have been not the teaching of law as a knowledge of certain principles and provision of law to enable them to enter the legal profession...'

To fix this, the Bar Council Of India floated the idea of a five year BALLB course.

Some critics did not consider this a suitable idea. A petition was filed citing that the Advocate Act only allowed for a three year course.

Professor Menon along with other stakeholders fought this tooth and nail and eventually won the case.

Thus was laid the foundation of the National Law School in India.

The changing contours of legal studies globally and the advent of MNCs in the international market in the mid-1980s prodded the concerned authorities for a much needed overhaul in the landscape of legal education.

The challenging task of conceptualising and the subsequent realisation of the vision for a National Law School fell on Professor Menon's shoulders.

He felt that the law should not be confined to producing lawyers, that it is an instrument for social engineering.

The National Law School of India University, Bengaluru; the National University of Juridical Sciences, West Bengal; the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal are quintessential examples of Professor Menon's passion for the cause of legal education.

Professor Menon was the first director and VC of the National Law School of India University; he served the institution for 12 long years.

He served the National University of Juridical Sciences as founder-VC.

On Justice B N Kripal's request, Professor Menon served as the National Judicial Academy's founder director.

In the word of the distinguished lawyer Fali Nariman, 'NR was transmitting civilisation' to generations.

Mr Nariman called Professor Menon 'the lawyers's master'.

Professor Menon was a maverick.

He instutionalised pedagogic innovation at the premium law institutes, which he had learnt over the years by way of rigorous hard work and scholarship.

Innovative techniques and syllabus gave the National Law Schools an edge over others in the field.

Professor Menon implemented teaching by the Socratic method. Legal aid clinics were mandatory for students.

The National Judicial Academy was established to cater to the training of judges.

Professor Menon was not dwarfed by this colossal and challenging assignment. New training modules and programmes were designed from the 'social context judging' point of view, an idea which he imbued from the Canadian supreme court.

The National Judicial Academy acquired a reputation in judicial education and training within a short period of time.

IMAGE: Professor Menon addresses the National University of Juridical Sciences. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons

Professor Menon was awarded the Padma Shri in 2003. He was conferred with the title 'Living Legend of Law' by the International Bar Association in 1994.

The Government of India asked Professor Menon to help draft the National Policy on Criminal Justice.

While working with the Commission on Centre-State Relations, Professor Menon was given the responsibility to examine the TRIPS Agreement's compatibility with the amended Patent Act, 2005.

After retirement, he served as chairman of the prestigious Centre for Development Studies for two terms, before calling it a day.

A writer par excellence, his books, journals, essays are rare for their scholarship and erudition.

A special mention I would like to make is the Rule of Law in Free Society, Law and Ethics, Law and Poverty, Clinical Legal Education, Population and Law: Justice For All.

His research and journals have often been cited by the Supreme Court.

Professor Menon was that rare figure who took praise and criticism on the same wavelength.

His popularity among young legal minds was undisputable.

Through the Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training, Professor Menon tried to serve society and disseminate legal education in his home state Kerala after retirement.

In collaboration with Justice V R Krishna Iyer, Professor Menon did monumental work in the fields of legal aid, legal clinics and Lok Adalats to ensure that the poor and needy do not languish in getting justice.

Professor Menon was of the view that lawyers are social engineers and have a role to play in transforming society.

He wanted to give the youth of this country a platform where they were not bereft of any opportunity and worked for it tirelessly.

Whenever the history of the National Law Schools is written, N R Madhava Menon's name will be deeply inscribed in it.

Mohammad Zeeshan Ahmad is a law student at the Aligarh Muslim University.


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