CJI calls for women’s equal representation in judiciary

  • Higher judiciary in India, which includes the Supreme Court and the high courts, currently has no policy of reservations for women.
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana.(AFP)
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana.(AFP)
Published on Sep 27, 2021 04:18 AM IST
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A representation of 50 percent women in the judiciary is not a matter of charity but of right, Chief Justice of India NV Ramana said on Sunday, adding that he is “forcing the executive for applying necessary correctives.”

Lamenting centuries of suppression of women at workplaces, chief justice Ramana called for an “urgent correction” in the state of affairs, and said he strongly advocates reservation of a “significant percentage of seats” in law schools and universities for women.

“Enough of suppression of thousands of years. It is high time we have 50% representation of women in judiciary. It is your right. It is not a matter of charity,” the chief justice said at an event organised by women advocates of the Supreme Court.

Higher judiciary in India, which includes the Supreme Court and the high courts, currently has no policy of reservations for women.

Such reservation in subordinate courts depends on the policy of the state government and the concerned high court.

Justice Ramana’s statement came weeks after the collegium headed by him paved the way for a woman judge to head the apex court in 2027.

Out of the sanctioned strength of 34, the Supreme Court currently has four women judges — justices Indira Banerjee, Hima Kohli, BV Nagarathna and Bela M Trivedi — which is the highest ever in the top court’s history.

Other than justice Banerjee, three judges were appointed on August 31, taking the total number of women judges appointed in the top court to 11.

Justice Nagarathna is in line to become the first woman chief justice in September 2027. She will have a tenure of a little over a month.

Women constitute only about 30% of the lower judiciary, justice Ramana pointed out. “In high courts, women judges constitute 11.5%. Here in the Supreme Court, we currently have 4 women justices out of the sitting 33.

That makes it just 12%. Of the 1.7 million advocates, only 15% are women. Only 2% of the elected representatives in the state bar councils are women. (There is) no woman member in the Bar Council of India,” the chief justice said.

Women face various obstacles to enter the profession and gender stereotypes force them to bear the brunt of family burdens, he said.

“Clients’ preference for male advocates, uncomfortable environment within courtrooms, lack of infrastructure, crowded courtrooms, lack of washrooms for women, etc., all these deter women from entering the profession... An important focus area is to increase gender diversity in legal education, he said. “I strongly advocate reservation of a significant percentage of seats in law schools and universities for women, as a first step.”

Justice Ramana emphasised that inclusion of women judges and lawyers will substantially improve the quality of justice delivery and that he will wholeheartedly support initiatives that will further the cause of eliminating gender disparity in the profession.

He congratulated the women judges present at the event (justices Banerjee, Kohli, Nagarathna and Trivedi), saying that their actions in upholding the Constitution will inspire women not only in the legal profession but in all walks of life.

“Everyone here, women lawyers and my sister judges, are role models for young girls who are hoping to enter the profession,” justice Ramana said in his address.

Speaking at the event, Justice Nagarathna said: “Women visibility as judicial officers can pave the way for greater representation of women in other decision-making positions such as legislative and executive branches of the government.”

Out of 677 sitting judges in the Supreme Court and the high courts, only 81 are women, law ministry data show, which translates into only 12 percent representation.

Among the 25 high courts, only the Madras high court has women judges in the double digits. Out of the working strength of 58 judges, the Madras high court has 13 women, which is more than 22% representation.

At least five high courts — Manipur, Meghalaya, Bihar, Tripura and Uttarakhand — do not have a single woman judge, while seven other high courts have just one woman judge each.

The sanctioned strength of judges across 25 high courts in India is 1,098. Of these, 465 posts (more than 42% of the total strength) were vacant as of September.

In his speech on Sunday, justice Ramana expressed hope that the Supreme Court opens up fully for offline hearings after the Dussehra break that ends on October 17.

The concerns of the bar on certain stipulations in the guidelines for physical hearings are being addressed, he said.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021