The Supreme Court Women Lawyers Associations (SCWLA), moved the apex court with a plea seeking consideration of “meritorious” woman advocates for appointment as judges in high courts. A bench headed by Chief Justice S A Bobde will hear the application on April 15, filed through lawyer Sneha Kalita. The application has highlighted the “abysmally low” 11.04% share of women as judges in higher judiciary, particularly in the 25 high courts as well as the apex court. Complaining about the poor women representation in the Indian courtrooms, the application submitted also highlights a chart of women judges presently posted in various high courts.
The chart reflects that from the 1079 sanctioned strength of judges (including both Permanent and Additional Judges), the occupied seats account for 661 among which only 73 accounts for women judges. The intervention application filed by SCWLA also reflects that through this plea, welfare of the women will be promoted at large and it will help in protecting the dignity of women while encouraging their active participation in the decision-making system.
Time to bring gender parity in Indian judiciary
With the recent superannuation of Justice Indu Malhotra from the Supreme Court, Justice Indra Banerjee is the only female judge against 29 male judges. This brings to the attention the reasonable representation of women in the courts. The petition adds that, since Independence, only 8 women judges of a total 247 have graced the Supreme Court of India.
Diving deep into history, in 1989, Justice Fathima Beevi was appointed as the first women judge of the Supreme Court of India during the pre-collegium system. Even after seven decades of the establishment of the apex court, Indian never saw a woman as the Chief Justice. Further, it is highlighted in the application that in the high courts of Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura, Telangana and Uttarakhand, there are no sitting women judges.
Moving towards this direction, SCWLA referred to constitutional provisions on equality and emphasized to bridge the gender gap by providing adequate representation for women after giving due weightage to the merit.
The petition also addressed that Women in India were granted the right to take up the legal profession after the Legal Practitioners’ (Women) Act of 1923 came into existence which abolished the bar on them from practicing.
In the plea, the lawyers’ body also drew support from Attorney General K.K. Venugopal, who in a submission to the apex court in December 2020 noted that there was a need to balance the gender demographics in the Indian courtrooms, especially in alignment for the cases of sexual offences. He rightfully emphasized on improving the representation of women which can go a long way towards a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence.