In ICAI ‘Open Book’ exam student is required to write answers not copy-paste – SC dismisses SLP

In ICAI Open Book’ methodology exam also the student required to write answers not copy-paste in the answer book – Supreme Court dismisses student’s SLP

ABCAUS Case Law Citation:
ABCAUS 3817 (2023) (11) SC

The petitioner had appeared in the C.A. final examination conducted by the ICAI in the month of May 2022. The 6F ‘Multi Disciplinary Case Study’ was to be conducted as per the ‘Open Book’ methodology.

The case of the petitioner was that he had appeared in the papers consisted of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) accounting for 40 marks out of 100 and Descriptive type accounting for 60 marks out of 100 and he received a phone call informing him that his case has been considered for unfair means by the ICAI.

supreme court

Subsequently, in the mark-sheet, assessment was made of only the MCQs and so far as the Descriptive Questions were concerned, the petitioner was assessed as ‘fail’. As per the mark-sheet the petitioner was marked as failed in Paper 6F. A communication was issued by the ICAI informing the petitioner that the petitioner had not written the answers in the answer book, instead he had cut-pasted the answers from the study material on the answer book.

The Petitioner challenged his result before the Hon’ble High Court. However, by the decision of a single judge, the petition was dismissed.

The Petitioner challenged the decision of the single judge before a division bench and argued that there was no any instructions issued by the ICAI that in the ‘Open Book’ methodology exam answers were required to be handwritten. Even, during the course of examination, the petitioner was not restrained from doing copy-paste the answers and without affording an opportunity of hearing, the ICAI has declared the petitioner ‘fail’, thereby the petitioner had been denied the principles of natural justice.

It was submitted that the career of the petitioner has been ruined due to the arbitrary act on the part of the ICAI. Further, he also relied on the key-points note for information and guidance of the applicants issued by the ICAI for the final examination to be conducted wherein it has been clearly stated that the candidates should write the answers in their own handwriting and they are prohibited from pasting the answers from the reference material or any other source in their answer booklet and any violation of the same shall tantamount to unfair means. It is submitted that no such instructions were issued at the relevant point of time and due to this, the petitioner was misled.

It was claimed that there was no any unfair practice on the part of the petitioner and . requested to quash and set-aside the order passed by the Single Judge and to direct the ICAI to treat the petitioner as having passed in the Paper-6F of the C.A. final examination.

The Division Bench observed that as per the instructions specified on the admit card, the examinee was required to use black ink ball point pen only and the examinee was required to write answers in English/Hindi medium opted and mentioned on the admit card. So far as the instruction no. 6(b) is concerned, it was with regard to Paper-6 of final (new) exam, i.e. ‘Open Book’ methodology. Candidates were permitted to bring their own material to the exam centre for this paper and refer to them while answering the paper during the exam. Instruction no.7(a) stipulated that the answer should be written neatly and legibly and should, as far as possible, be brief. However, avoid use of sms type of language while writing your answers. Instruction no.7(b) stipulated that the answer to each question must be commenced on a fresh page and the question number clearly and prominently written at the top of each answer. Candidates are advised in their own interest not to leave full pages blank in between the answers. Candidates are advised to check the answer book carefully after completing the paper and score off any blank pages, i.e. draw a line across the blank page, if any. Instruction no.7(c) stipulatesd that the answer to each question in all parts should be completed fully in one page, or in a consecutive set of pages before the next question is taken up, i.e. all parts of a question be done together. Instruction no.7(d) stipulated that candidates are required to answer the requisite number of questions as per instructions printed on each question paper. Instruction no.7(e) stipulated that candidates should write the answers only in black ink and in no other colour. Though there is no specific prohibition against the use of Gel pen / Fountain pen, it will be advisable to use ball point pen only since its ink is indelible. Candidates were also advised not to use red, green, ink, highlighter, sketch pen etc. for underlining or highlighting any sentence/ para/ phrase as it amounted to making distinguishing mark which was prohibited. Candidates are permitted to use pencils for drawing graphs, diagrams, etc. However, candidates should take care not to use pencil for writing answers.

On going through the aforesaid facts, the Hon’ble High Court opined that apparently it was clear that in the ‘Open Book’ methodology exam also the applicant was required to write the answers. However, the petitioner, appellant herein, copy-pasted the answers in the answer book.

The Hon’ble High Court observed that noticing the irregularities in the answer-sheet, the matter was put before the Examination Committee of the respondent ICAI which and decided to award zero mark to the Descriptive paper and this was done after due deliberation.

The Hon’ble High Court opined that even if, for the sake of argument, the say of the appellant was accepted and pasting of answers is allowed in the ‘Open Book’ methodology exam, it would be nothing but amounts to thwarting the very object of the ‘Open Book’ methodology exam. The Hon’ble High Court stated that the main reason for ‘Open Book’ examination is that teachers can devise questions that require students to answer in more analytical and critical ways thus encouraging high-order thinking skills in students as compared.

The Hon’ble High Court stated that in the present case, the appellant was an aspirant student who aspires to become a Chartered Accountant. For that purpose, the ICAI has decided to assess the ability, aptitude and acumen of the candidates. The concept of examination is a formal test conducted to evaluate a person’s knowledge of a particular subject. The examination assesses a candidate’s aptitude, skills and physical fitness and his mental acumen to assess the question and answer accordingly. It is a test to adjudge the skill of the candidate who appears for the exam.

Accordingly, the Division Bench dismissed the petition in limine.

Not satisfied with the decision of the Hon’ble High Court, the petitioner challenged it before the Hon’ble Supreme Court by way of special leave petition (SLP).

A full bench of the Hon’ble Supreme Court heard the petitioner in person. However, Their Lordships declined to interfere with the judgment and order passed by the High Court and special leave petition was dismissed.

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