Father of modern legal education in India

“Law is an instrument for globalisation in trade and investment as well as for strengthening international relations and institutions under rule of law. India with its large population, stable democracy, and fastest-growing economy is bound to play a decisive role in the shaping of international law and practice in the 21st century……One should not forget the ancient Indian adage Dharmo Rakshathi Rakshitaha, which roughly translated, means that if you protect Dharma (rule of law), Dharma will protect you. Ancient Indian jurisprudence has a universal appeal even today as it reflects the idea of world order through peaceful co-existence and fraternity based on Dharma. Let the new agenda of legal education blend the old and the new for an acceptable legal order based on justice, social, economic and political.” – Prof. (Dr) N.R. Madhava Menon.

The birth anniversary of Prof. (Dr) Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon, the father of modern legal education in India and the architect of the five-year integrated LL.B. programme, falls on 4th May, 2021, therefore, it would be pertinent to highlight the journey of Dr Menon, his achievements, and the efforts put in by him to strengthen the modern legal education in India. When I joined my law school in the year 2016, I used to interact with Dr Menon as he was closely associated with my law school. He used to encourage every student of my college to pursue his/her dreams with determination, dedication, and hard work. The Mooting Competition and Law Students Conference organized by my college every year have been sponsored in his name to honour his pioneering efforts to fortify the Indian legal education.

Dr Menon was born and brought up in Trivandrum, Kerala, and pursued his B.Sc. and B.L. degrees from the University of Kerala. Being an ardent student of law, he studied LL.M. and Ph.D. from Aligarh Muslim University and M.A. Degree from the University of Punjab. He got enrolled as an Advocate in Kerala High Court in the year 1956 and afterwards, joined the Central Secretariat Services. He was the first PhD from the Faculty of Law, Aligarh Muslim University. He served as the Founder Vice-Chancellor of National Law School of India University, Bangalore and National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. The National Law School of India University conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Laws. Recognizing his efforts to strengthen Indian legal education and his noteworthy contributions in the field of law, the Supreme Court of India appointed him as the first Director of the National Judicial Academy, Bhopal, to impart education and training to judicial officers and court administrators, for the judicial research and judicial policy development, for the dissemination and management of judicially relevant information, and for the capacity building of judicial training institutions for better performance. He was also honoured with Padma Shri in the year 2003. He held various important positions in his career, which were, Member of the Law Commission of India, Member of several Expert Committees, and Chairman of the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata and of the Centre for Development Studies, Trivandrum. Dr. Menon has written various books and has also penned down his autobiography, titled, The Story of a Law Teacher: Turning Point. He also founded the Menon Institute of Legal Advocacy Training (MILAT), a non-governmental organization for encouraging human rights and judicial reforms in the country. On 8th May, 2019, he left for his heavenly abode at the age of 84. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan posthumously in the year 2020.

Dr Menon always believed that the Judiciary is the final arbiter on issues of law and the Constitution and hence needs to be Independent. He used to opine that the final interpreter of the law is the Court, and not the legislature or the executive and judicial independence is central to democracy because it is judiciary which helps the realisation of the Rule of Law and protection of human rights. He advocated for the All-India Judicial Service and believed that the Government should legislate for the purpose. Not long ago, the Joint Secretary, Ministry of Law & Justice, Government of India, said that the Central Government is keen to introduce All India Judicial Services if there is consensus within the judiciary. It was also reported that the government is in the process of finalising a bill to establish an All-India judicial service to recruit officers for subordinate courts. The Central Government has been of the opinion that the creation of an All-India Judicial Service would require cooperation of the State Governments and High Courts which follows the recommendations of the Law Commission of India, decisions of the Supreme Court of India in All India Judges Association Case and the guidelines recommended by the First National Judicial Pay Commission, which forwarded its report to the Government in November, 1999.

Dr Menon headed the high-powered panel appointed by the Supreme Court and recommended that the name and pictures of political parties, their office-bearers etc. should not be used in government advertisements as there has been misuse and abuse of public money on such advertisements. The Panel framed guidelines regarding government advertisements and recommended the name and pictures of only the President, the Prime Minister, Governor and Chief Ministers be published to keep politics away from such advertisements. Dr Menon felt that the very nature of judicial process ensures accountability of Judges and Judges have to give reasons for their orders and judgments. He opined that judgments may be appealed against and corrected by the appellate court and it is open to the public to criticise judgments and contend that they are wrongly decided. He believed that the litigants can demand the recusal of Judges if they reasonably suspect bias on their part or can seek transfer of hearing to another Bench, all of which are built in safeguards intended to ensure accountability in terms of fairness and impartiality in administration of justice.

Justice Dipak Misra, Former Chief Justice of India, while remembering Dr Menon for his pioneering efforts, enunciated that Menon will remind everyone connected with law and legal education that if one is singularly committed to plant a good idea and fructify it into an activity, he will be successful as he will have co-travellers who are prepared to travel with him to inject life into the idea although its time may not have come, and that made Dr Madhava Menon an eminent leader in the field of education and a phenomenon in the last five decades. Justice A. K. Sikri, Former Judge, Supreme Court of India, appreciating the contributions of Dr Menon in the field of law and legal education, stated that the name of Prof. Madhava Menon is etched not only in the minds, but also in the hearts of all the persons and millions of others who came in his contact and more than his length of life, it is the depth of his life which has taught us so many lessons and would continue to teach future thinking, we should thank God that a person like Prof. Madhava Menon lived on this earth.

Dr Menon has worked tirelessly to modernise legal education in India and will always be remembered for his notable contributions in legal education, judicial education and training. Dr Menon used to caution Judges all over the country to refrain from needless judicial activism but gave credence to Judicial review and considered it as a weapon to discipline abuse of executive power. He was of the opinion that any institution with vast powers can become a threat if it does not have Judges of the highest integrity, sensitivity to constitutional values and great professional competence. He stressed upon the need of sensitizing judges on social issues so that they can understand the realities on the ground and importance of human dignity which would help in achieving social justice. His efforts will be celebrated for diligently designing the five-year law course and for establishing the country’s first National Law School in Bangalore. He highlighted the need of training of law students with lawyering skills to help them in starting legal practice on their own after graduation. He also suggested that during legal education, a student should acquire ethics, constitutional culture, and values of a responsible citizen and felt that institutions providing legal education should have a mission to realize meaningful legal education in India so that all the law students can understand the true meaning of law and legal studies. On the birth anniversary of Prof. (Dr) Neelakanta Ramakrishna Madhava Menon, the father of modern legal education in India, I pay my respectful tribute to him. He has been a great source of inspiration for all of us and he is definitely carved on our hearts, in the words of Shannon Alder when she said that carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.

Muneeb Rashid Malik is a student of law.