Indian Legal System: An Insight

April 6, 2009

internet webAs Pangea3 has grown, our clients have from time-to-time inquired about the legal and education systems in India. The inquiries have predominantly focused on the duration and quality of the Indian legal education. This article offers to address some of those queries as well as to inform the reader, at a very high level, about the Indian Legal System.

Indian Legal System

At the outset, the legal system in India is based on British Common Law. The primary sources of law in India are (I) the Constitution, (ii) legislative enactments (statutes), (iii) case law, and (iv) customary law. At the apex of the judiciary system is the Supreme Court of India (“Supreme Court”). The Supreme Court exercises original, appellate and advisory jurisdiction. All other courts in the country, including state high courts (“High Courts”) and other lower courts are subordinate to the Supreme Court and are bound to follow decisions of the Supreme Court.

Each High Court is the highest court of appeal as far as that state is concerned. Sitting below the High Courts are several subordinate courts in a state e.g. family courts, tribunals, consumer courts etc. The proceedings of the Supreme Court and most of the High Courts are conducted entirely in English.

Indian Education System generally

Education in India can generally be divided into the following stages (where Indian “Classes” are equivalent to U.S. “Grades”):

• Primary or Elementary: Classes 1 to 8 (ages 6 to 14)
• Secondary: Classes 9 & 10 (ages 14-16)
• Higher Secondary: Classes 11 & 12 (ages 16-18)
• Higher Education (Graduation in Arts/Commerce/Science): Classes 13-14-15 (ages 18-21)
• Post Graduation: Usually 2 to 3 years in duration

Centralized state level exams administered by the responsible state body (universities) are held at the end of Classes 10, 12 and 15.

Legal Education:

In order to obtain the LLB degree in law, a prospective student can consider one of the following two options after completing Class 10 (equivalent of the Sophomore Year, or 10th Grade in a U.S. High School):

Option I

i. Attend “junior college” for 2 years. This is often referred to as the 10+2 system in
India, and is the equivalent (in number of years) that it takes to finish High School in the
ii. Receive an Undergraduate Degree (e.g., BA, BSC, BCom, etc.).
iii. Attend Law School for an additional 3 years.

Option II

i. Attend “junior college” for 2 years (same as Option I above).
ii. Complete a 5 year integrated law degree program offered by a few Universities (much like certain institutions in the U.S. that offer a consolidated 6-7 yrs. M.D. program straight out of High School)

Regardless of which of the above options a law student selects, upon clearing exams administered on a centralized state level basis by the relevant state body, the student receives an LLB degree (equivalent to a JD). Upon registration at a local bar, such student is eligible to practice law. In case of a 5 year integrated law degree program (Option II above), the student also receives a BLS degree (Bachelor of Legal Sciences) on completion of the first 3 years.

Admission to Law Schools:

Applicants to law colleges in India are not required to take a centralized entrance exam like the LSAT. However, many colleges privately administer entrance exams to all applicants. Admission to law colleges in India is based on how well the prospective student did in junior college and/or Undergraduate, as the case may be, in addition to the privately administered entrance exam, where applicable.

Curriculum in Law School:

The Bar Council of India prescribes the courses to be administered by law schools. Over the course of the program, 21 compulsory subjects are offered including Legal Writing, Jurisprudence, Constitutional Law, Corporations, Contracts, Evidence, Civil Procedure, and Criminal Procedure. Optional subjects include taxation, bankruptcy law, and Intellectual property law.

All students are required to take a course on professional ethics.

While the foregoing offers to address certain inquiries and curiosities directed towards the Indian legal system, we would invite questions either unaddressed in this blog, or other more specific inquiries in connection with the Indian legal system.