"The law is the public conscience", said Thomas Hobbes. It is the panacea for majority of tribulations creeping in the fabric of a society. But law and the systems that support it are dynamic: they impact on, and are influenced by the cultural, moral, ethical, environmental, political, social, and economic values of the day. Therefore, it is equally pivotal that the standard of acumen and intellect of the public is raised to such level that it can be trusted or, at least, not defeated. It is taxing to bring everyone's logic and intellect in consonance with existing legal principles. However, it is equally vital that a considerable chunk of citizens, especially the youth, are raised on the lines of conformity with legal norms of the society. This invigorates the argument for the need of a legal culture which breeds legally-oriented social behaviour and attitudes—the attainment of which cannot be fathomed without the implementation of legal consciousness at structural and institutional levels and imparting legal knowledge and skills beyond and ahead of mere professional pursuits. In this quest, the Central Board of School Education (CBSE) has made a really commendable stride and set a benchmark by introducing legal studies at the intermediate level.
Why study legal studies?
Enquiries into legal culture (one way of which can be the Legal studies) try to understand puzzling features of the role and the rule of law within given societies and legal system. More importantly, it enhances the development of legal culture in which the responsive citizens adopt a solution oriented approach to the societal problems—they resort to legal and formal means in order to meet their demands instead of using violent and destructive means (like violent protests, etc.). To be informed citizens, young people need an understanding of the principles, processes and concepts that provide the foundations for our legal system and of the issues that confront it. Legal studies if imparted within a curriculum shall offer students the opportunity to gain such understanding in national and a global context. In legal studies, students explore major issues, such as citizenship, cultural diversity, our country's multicultural foundation, pluralism and ethos of the constitution, sustainability and the environment, and work and enterprise.
Students of legal studies will explore law as an integral aspect of the society they are a part of, investigate how laws are applied in everyday life, and consider how laws relate to and are affected by the changing needs and values of the society. In doing so, students will necessarily experience two essential benefits. In the first place, they will gain an informed respect for the law and the legal system that enables them to operate as confident and responsible citizens in a diverse society. Secondly, the task will sharpen their capacity to evaluate the concepts, principles, systems, and processes of the State's legal system; the history of law in it; and the significance of the events that entailed our legal expedition—Our Legal History.
Discussions of legal issues offer opportunities to explore and encourage values such as diversity, equity through social justice, and ethical and respectful behaviour towards the rights of others. Our criminal justice system, like most others, does not accept the "ignorance of law" as a plausible excuse for crimes, but considers "ignorance of fact" as such. In such a case, it is the duty of the State machinery to manoeuvre and revitalise the education system in a way so that no one is left bereft of basic legal knowledge and acumen. Otherwise, the irony of the situation will give way to filthy arguments like—knowledge of law is a fact and ignorance of this fact renders a criminal activity inchoate.
Big ideas in legal studies
The ability of a student to apply a theoretical legal concept to a concrete example of a legal issue is a key competency that is unique to legal studies. This competency is taught at great length in Law Faculties in Universities under the banner of professional courses like LL.B, B.A.LL.B, BB.A.LL.B, etc. In acquiring competence in this core skill at the very intermediate level, the students will necessarily begin to think like more responsible citizens. More importantly, it will open new avenues for them thereby enabling them to opt for law a future course in their career. Legal studies shall, most importantly, allow the students to study and understand usability of legal principles and the interacting systems at three primary levels—law, democracy and government and the justice.
The study of law means the role of law and its relationship to the society, the ability of the legal system to provide just outcomes to looming problems and predicaments for all individuals and groups, its feasibility in solving our quandaries and paradoxes, how the legal system impacts on our lives and how we can influence and change it. It involves the study of key sub-concepts like Customary laws, Rights and their limitations, Fundamental Rights and Duties, Freedom of the press, Rule of law, Personal relationships (for example, civil union, marriage, guardianship), National and Parliamentary sovereignty, Nationalism and Supranationalism, Natural justice, Negligence, Contract, Crime, Property, Legal ethics, Privacy and Information Rights, Securities, Banking and Taxation and Consumer Rights. The students must be confronted to these key concepts cursorily at the intermediate level, while the nitty-gritty and niceties can be understood and conceptualised at professional levels only.
Democracy and government, on the other hand, shall envisage the power to determine how you are governed, electing government, power sharing between parliament, executive and the judiciary and role of an individual in activating the democratic functionaries. It includes studies of sub-concepts like Liberal democracy, Parliamentary sovereignty, Rule of law, Elections, Civil liberties, Free press, Autocratic Government, Theocratic Government, Rights and their limitations, Social contract, Separation of powers, Checks and balances, Unitary form of government, Federal form of government, Constitutions.
Justice means to study the ability of the legal system to provide just outcomes for all individuals and groups at organisational and personal levels, how the system impacts on our lives and how we can influence and change it. Scales of justice, Origins of justice, Youth justice systems, Criminal justice systems, Civil justice systems, Judicial review, Family justice systems, International criminal justice system, Alternative dispute resolution, Distributive justice, Social justice, Human Rights Review Tribunal, Inquisitorial system, Challenging state power. It also includes the understanding of hierarchy of the judicial institutions and other grievance redress mechanisms like Human Rights Commissions, National Green Tribunal, Women's Commission, etc.
It is befitting that a dynamic leadership has come to the rescue of the precarious education system in our State which is persistently endeavouring to improve the quality of education by revamping the existing state of sluggishness and mediocrity. Like the CBSE, it is high time that our State also imparts this in our education system and sets a benchmark. Pertinently, a statement was given to the same effect by the JKBOSE long before, in December 2016, by the then Chairman Zahoor Ahmad Chatt, but unfortunately nothing has materialised since then.