THE Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA) has written to the Chief Justice of India calling for the appointment of women judges to High Courts.
Last week, Attorney General of India KK Venugopal observed the need for increased representation of women in the judiciary in light of incidents of insensitivity shown by judges during proceedings of sexual offence cases. He also spoke about gender disparity in the designation of lawyers as ‘Senior Advocates’ by the higher judiciary.
The Attorney General was appearing before a bench of Justice S Ravindra Bhat and Justice Khanwilkar in an appeal filed by women lawyers seeking regulation of bail conditions in cases of violence against women. This came in the light of the rising number of bail orders that direct the accused to marry or get a rakhi tied by the victim in order to avail of bail.
Calling for advancing ‘gender neutrality’ of the bench across Indian Judiciary, the letter notes, “the necessity to externally and internally sensitise presiding Judges of High Courts and District Courts to use temperate and neutral language, to avoid histrionics and to eschew making personal comments on the bodily characteristics or personal character (not professional integrity) about parties appearing before them.”
Senior Advocate Mahalakshmi Pavani who penned the letter said: “The Supreme Court Bar has wonderful, morally incorruptible, talented ladies, who have reached the pinnacle of success as Advocates and Advocates on Record, they have requisite experience of 20 years and have a fruitful practice. Experienced, integrity-driven and tenacious women practicing in the Supreme Court of India should be considered by Milords for appointment to all High Courts.”
Representation of women in the lower judiciary is only a tad bit better. According to Vidhi’s study, women occupy only about 27% of positions in the lower judiciary across India.
Training and assistance for Judiciary
“I have always been delighted with the number of enthusiastic young girls who are strongly committed to the idea of serving in the Judiciary,” writes Pavani.
There is a need for support mechanisms and programs to train and encourage young women law students for the judiciary. Moreover, access to such programs is difficult for financially disadvantaged women living in desolate areas.
The letter urges the formulation of training programs in law schools to guide women law students to enter the judiciary.
Creating women-friendly infrastructure in courts
The letter also notes the importance of having supportive infrastructural facilities in the lower judiciary, such as clean court complexes, creches, and so on.
In fact, calls for making judicial infrastructure women-friendly are not new.
In a talk organised by the Delhi Women Lawyers Forum, Advocate Sunieta Ojha had said, “We are not saying that women need special treatment. It is just about enabling infrastructure like creches. The bar has never seen this as an important issue even though most women disappear.”
Senior Advocate Indira Jaising echoed similar views in another talk by the Delhi Women Lawyers Forum. “No woman should be compelled to choose between motherhood and her profession.”
Assistance by Law Students
Additionally, a shortage of support staff hampers court efficiency in the disposal of cases.
“I’m completely in agreement with the inability to proceed beyond the sanctioned staff strength and I suggest to you that the youth aspiring to be advocates can play an instrumental part in this,” said Pavani.
The letter suggests the introduction of a course on “Judicial Assistance” in law schools to allow senior law students to assist lower court judges. Such a move will also help in raising the technological efficiency of courts since the youth is well versed with technical skills, says the letter.
The SCWLA is hopeful that the apex court will soon set the ball rolling on increasing gender diversity in the Indian judiciary.
(Megha Katheria is a legal journalist and sub-editor with The Leaflet.)