Women Representation on Benches
Part of: GS-Prelims and GS-II: Judiciary
Context: Appointment of Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts is made under Articles 124, 217 and 224 of the Constitution of India, which do not provide reservation for any caste or class of persons.
- In the present system of appointment of Judges to the constitutional courts through the Collegium system, the onus to provide social diversity and representation to all sections of the society including SC/ST/OBC/Women/Minorities primarily falls on the Judiciary.
- Government cannot appoint any person as a High Court Judge who is not recommended by the High Court Collegium/Supreme Court Collegium.
- However, the Government remains committed to social diversity in the appointment of Judges in the Higher Judiciary and has been requesting the Chief Justices of High Courts that while sending proposals for appointment of Judges, due consideration be given to suitable candidates belonging to Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, Other Backward Classes, Minorities and Women to ensure social diversity in appointment of Judges in High Courts.
From 01.01.2021 to 30.03.2022, Supreme Court Collegium has recommended 39 women for appointment as High Court Judges, out of which 27 women were appointed and remaining 12 cases are under various stages of processing.
The Indian Supreme Court has delivered remarkable judgments on gender identity, sexual orientation, Sabarimala temple entry and adultery. But the actual progress of the Indian judiciary should be measured by the number of women in high positions. Since Independence, India has had a woman President, Prime Minister, chief ministers, governors but no woman Chief Justice.
- It took almost 40 years to have the first woman judge, Justice Fathima Beevi, and 68 years for the Supreme Court to have the first directly appointed woman judge, Justice Indu Malhotra, among six male judges.
- Despite three women judges currently sitting in the Supreme Court, there seems to be no likelihood that we will have the first woman Chief Justice in the near future.
Why does it matter?
- A gender diverse bench reflects a bias-free judiciary. Many empirical studies show that having even one woman on a three-judge panel has an effect on the entire panel’s decision-making in gender discrimination cases.
- Having women judges encourage more women to approach the system of law to report violence and crimes happening to them on a daily basis.
- The presence of women judges from diverse backgrounds will bring structural changes in the decision-making process. Studies prove that personal values, experiences and many other non-legal factors influence judicial decisions.
- If women in the judiciary hail from similar backgrounds as those of men, holding mainstream ideas and beliefs, the gender diversity has little to no payoff. Besides, the more socially diverse the judicial benches are, the stronger the judiciary is. This will improve public trust in the judiciary and increase access to justice.
Is there a way forward?
- There is a need of an effective affirmative action workplan to have an adequate number of prospective women candidates, with especial focus on the fact that they come from marginalised groups. In addition, the criterion for designation of senior counsels should also be focused upon.
- A special diversity programme is required to adopt to encourage and motivate women lawyers, the number of female students taking up law may increase but there won’t be women judges to inspire them to sustain in the profession.
- Collection of data should be initiated to determine the number of women judges in the lower judiciary and tribunals and also to determine year-wise number of senior designates by all High Courts.
- Certain law schools have the subject either as a specialisation or as an elective. Equally, the All India Bar Examination does not contain even a single question or section relating to gender sensitisation. The Bar Council of India may take necessary steps in this regard.
- Removing the minimum age for recruitment as district judge can help young female advocates from opting out of practice in favour of other services or corporate jobs. Governments should also rationalise salary and allowances of lower judiciary.
Babasaheb Bhim Rao Ambedkar had said, “I measure the progress of a community by the degree of progress which women have achieved”.
Note: United Nations General Assembly Resolution 75/274 designated 10th March the International Day of Women Judges in 2021.
News Source: PIB