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Sansad TV: Women In Judiciary

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Status of women in Indian judiciary

  • In the 71 years of history of the SC, there have been only few women judges — the first was Justice Fathima Beevi, who was elevated to the bench after a long gap of 39 years from the date of establishment of the SC.
  • There has never been a female Chief Justice. This figure is consistently low across the higher judiciary.
  • There are only 80 women judges out of the sanctioned strength of 1,113 judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
  • Only four of these 80 women judges are in the Supreme Court and the other 78 are in various High Courts, comprising only 7.2% of the number of judges.

Challenges to women’s entry into judiciary

  • A major barrier to women’s recruitment as district judges are the eligibility criteria to take the entrance exams.
  • Lawyers need to have seven years of continuous legal practice and be in the age bracket of 35-45.
  • This is a disadvantage for women as many are married by this age and have to take career gaps due to childbirth.
  • Further, the long and inflexible work hours in law, combined with familial responsibilities, force many women to drop out of practice and they fail to meet the requirement of continuous practice.
  • Many esteemed lawyers are not elevated to Supreme court Judge, with exception of one such instance i.e. Justice Indira Bannerjee.

Benefits of diversity and gender representation in Supreme court

  • The entry of women judges into spaces from which they had historically been excluded has been a positive step in the direction of judiciaries being perceived as being more transparent, inclusive, and representative.
  • By their mere presence, women judges enhance the legitimacy of courts, sending a powerful signal that they are open and accessible to those who seek recourse to justice.
  • They could contribute far more to justice than improving its appearance: they also contribute significantly to the quality of decision-making, and thus to the quality of justice itself.
  • By elucidating how laws and rulings can be based on gender stereotypes, or how they might have a different impact on women and men, a gender perspective enhances the fairness of the adjudication.
    • eg.: A judge of the Madhya Pradesh High Court imposed a condition while granting bail to a man accused of sexual assault — that he should go to the residence of the victim and get a Rakhi tied to his wrist. Such baseless judgements can be prevented.
  • Women judges bring those lived experiences to their judicial actions, experiences that tend toward a more comprehensive and empathetic perspective.
  • Improving the representation of women could go a long way towards a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence.

Conclusion

  • This initiative must come from the Supreme Court itself, considering that the power of appointment rests almost exclusively with the Supreme Court Collegium.
  • The goal must be to achieve at least 50% representation of women in all leadership positions. The former Chief Justice of India also mooted that women must have 50% reservation in the judiciary as it is their right.