Prefer 50% women at all judicial levels: CJI Ramana

The CJI is of the view that the legal profession still has to welcome women into its fold since a majority of women advocates struggled within the profession
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana with the four women judges. (HT PHOTO)
Chief Justice of India NV Ramana with the four women judges. (HT PHOTO)
Updated on Sep 05, 2021 02:46 AM IST
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By Utkarsh Anand, Hindustan Times, New Delhi

Days after the collegium headed by him paved the way for a woman judge to head the judiciary in 2027, Chief Justice of India, NV Ramana, on Saturday said that he would prefer at least 50% representation of women in the judiciary at all levels.

Lamenting the inadequate number of women judges across the courts in the country, the CJI was of the view that the legal profession still has to welcome women into its fold since a majority of women advocates struggled within the profession.

“Very few women find representation at the top. Even when they do, they continue to face significant challenges. After 75 years of independence, one would expect at least 50% representation for women at all levels, but I must admit, with great difficulty we have now achieved a mere 11% representation of women on the bench of the Supreme Court,” said justice Ramana.

Speaking at a function organised by the Bar Council of India (BCI) to felicitate him, the CJI emphasised that the issue pertaining to the representation of women in the judiciary must be highlighted and deliberated upon.

Out of the sanctioned strength of 34 judges, the Supreme Court currently has four women judges — justices Indira Banerjee, Hima Kohli, BV Nagarathna and Bela M Trivedi — which is the highest ever number in its 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 date to 11. Justice Nagarathna is in line to become the first woman CJI in September 2027, and she will have a tenure of a little over a month.

According to data from the Union ministry of law and justice, out of 677 sitting judges in both the Supreme Court and high courts, only 81 are women. This makes out the representation of women judges in the total working strength to a mere 12%.

Among the 25 high courts, only the Madras high court has women judges in double digits. Out of the working strength of 58 judges, the Madras HC has 13 women, which is more than 22% representation. At least five high courts — Manipur, Meghalaya, Bihar, Tripura and Uttarakhand — do not have even 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 1.

In his speech, CJI Ramana highlighted how the collegium, which also includes justices Uday Lalit, AM Khanwilkar, Dhananjaya Y Chandrachud and L Nageswara Rao, is attempting to address the issue of vacancies in the higher judiciary on an urgent basis.

Putting on record his appreciation for the other members of the collegium, justice Ramana said that it is only due to the collective efforts that the vacancy in the Supreme Court has been reduced to one judge while 82 names have been recommended for appointment in various high courts since the CJI took the helm in April this year.

“I hope the Government will ensure that the names are cleared at the earliest just the way the 9 names were cleared for the apex court. It is an ongoing process. We hope to live up to the herculean challenge of filling nearly 41% vacancies existing in all the high courts,” added justice Ramana.

In the last week, the collegium has recommended 68 names for appointment in total across 12 high courts. The numbers included nine names which were objected to by the Union government but have been reiterated by the collegium after overruling the opposition. The reiterations further included four names for the Calcutta high court; two for the Jammu & Kashmir high court; two for the Karnataka high court, and one for the Rajasthan high court.

This is the highest number of names recommended for appointment as HC judges.

Among the 68 names cleared, 44 are lawyers while 24 are serving judicial officers. There are 10 women among the recommendations. In yet another first, a woman judicial officer belonging to the Scheduled Tribes was recommended for appointment in the Gauhati high court.

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Thursday, October 21, 2021