Empowering The Underprivileged: The Social Justice Mission For Clinical Legal Education In India


  • Shuvro Prosun Sarker




The 1960s and 1970s were an important time in the history of legal education in India, when the legal aid movement and various legal aid committees’ reports started to draw attention to the importance of experiential learning, or learning on the job, in legal education. The main aim of involving law students in the national legal aid movement was to make them feel more responsible for the considerable part of the Indian population who, because of their socio-economic status, couldn’t access justice. The history of how India’s clinical programs were introduced has a lot in common with the history of clinical programs in other parts of the world. There was a desire to create a pool of lawyers, who would serve as soldiers in the fight for social justice for underprivileged groups in the country.

While some prestigious universities started their clinical programs in the 1970s, most of the regulators of legal education took a long time to include clinical papers in the curriculum. In 1997 the Bar Council of India introduced four practical papers in the curriculum. The spirit of public service, and the widespread poverty in a country, has always been central to the push for clinical programs everywhere. But in India, the legal aid committees’ and other statutory bodies’ reports calling for clinical programs to support social justice, were always ignored. The National Knowledge Commission’s working group on legal education specifically mentioned the need to introduce students to issues relating to poverty, social change and social exclusion, through clinical legal education.

After the introductory section, the second section discusses the introduction of clinical programs with their roots in the search for social justice in the United States and India. The third section discusses the continuous deliberation by various bodies, commissions and committees about the need to introduce clinical programs with a social justice perspective in India. The fourth section discusses the social justice-based clinical programs in China and South Africa. This section tries to highlight some of the clinical models focused on serving underprivileged groups, that have been introduced and implemented in these two countries and which ~ after local modifications ~ could serve as a template for programs in Indian law schools. The fifth section tries to search for clinical models best suited to India with reference to clinical programs in China and South Africa. Several examples of clinical activities in a few Indian law schools have been highlighted in this chapter to explain these models’ effectiveness and suitability for Indian circumstances. The sixth section sets out some suggestions for law schools and stakeholders of legal education in India as to how to further the country’s social justice mission of clinical legal education.