Act barring private colleges from opening law schools struck down in Tamil Nadu
First bench observes that such a ban does not even serve the object for which the legislation was enacted and cannot be construed as a reasonable restriction
CHENNAI: In a decision that will restructure legal education in Tamil Nadu, the first bench of the Madras High Court set aside the Tamil Nadu Establishment of Private Law Colleges (Prohibition) Act, 2014 as ultra vires of the Constitution.
Under this Act, private institutions were not permitted to open law colleges in the State.
Such a blanket prohibition does not even serve the object for which the legislation was enacted and cannot be construed as a reasonable restriction, said the bench of Chief Justice SK Kaul and Justice R Mahadevan on Wednesday while quashing the Act.
Though a leader in professional education when it comes to engineering and medical courses, Tamil Nadu has long been hesitant to give permission to private law colleges. Hence, despite the legal fraternity being a vibrant lot here, there are only seven government law colleges, one Centre of Excellence in Chennai and
the National Law School in Srirangam.
The only exceptions are the private law college in Salem that opened over three decades ago, and four deemed universities offering law courses - Vellore Institute of Technology’s Law School, SRM School of Law (both established in 2014), Saveetha School of Law, all in Chennai, and SASTRA School of Law in Thanjavur - which were opened after getting the nod from the Bar Council of India.
Striking down the Act, the court held that this was not a case where the majoritarian concept of will of the people’ would apply, as it infringed on the valuable rights conferred under Part-III of the Constitution, which is the ground norm. “We fail to see as to how such legislation can be saved by any endeavour to read into it what is clearly not within it, that is, neither a restriction or regulation but an absolute ban, and that too, for unlimited time period. Judiciary has to, thus, step in to protect the constitutional safeguards given,” the bench added.
The bench was allowing and partly allowing PILs from advocate K Balu, president of the PMK-affiliated Advocates’ Forum for Social Justice, SMM Educational Foundation by its chairman, and Vanniar Educational Trust, by its chairman and managing trustee Dr S Ramadoss, founder-leader of PMK.
While the first petition sought to declare the Act as null and void, the second and third PILs challenged the orders of the appropriate authorities refusing permission to start a law college in the name of Saraswathi Law College in Tindivanam.
With the Act being struck down, the petitioner institution’s application would be liable to be considered on merits like in the case of all institutions. Consequently, the order of the Director of Legal Studies dated September 26, 2014, and another one by Dr Ambedkar Law University dated January 28, 2015 were set aside. The university was also directed to examine the case of the petitioner in terms of Tamil Nadu Dr Ambedkar Law University Affiliation and Approval of Law Colleges Revised Regulations, 2013.
The bench also imposed a cost of `20,000 on the government for dodging the petitioner.