The article highlights the issue of women representation and its implications for the role of the judiciary.
Women in Judiciary: A dismal figure
The Supreme Court has only two women judges as against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges.
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 two 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.
There are six High Courts — Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura, Telangana, and Uttarakhand — where there are no sitting women judges.
Importance of Women in Judiciary:
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 5 and SDG 16 in particular), address the global responsibility of having gender equality and women’s representation in public institutions such as the judiciary.
Achieving equality for women judges is important not only because it is a right for women, but also because it is right for the achievement of a more just rule of law. Women judges strengthen the judiciary and help to gain the public's trust.
The entry of women judges is a positive step in the direction of judiciaries being perceived as being more transparent, inclusive, and representative of the people whose lives they affect.
Women judges enhance the legitimacy of courts, sending a powerful signal that they are open and accessible to those who seek recourse to justice.
Women judges bring those lived experiences to their judicial actions, experiences that tend toward a more comprehensive and empathetic perspective.
Adjudication is enhanced by the presence of women who bring to the fore considerations that would not have been taken into account in their absence and the scope of the discussion is hence enlarged, possibly preventing ill-considered or improper decisions.
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 adjudication, which ultimately benefits both men and women.
Courts should declare that such remarks (MP HC issue) are unacceptable which can potentially cause harm to the victim and to society at large.
Judicial orders should conform to certain judicial standards and necessary steps have to be taken to ensure that this does not happen in the future.
The SC must direct the collection of data to determine the number of women judges in the lower judiciary and tribunals and also to determine the year-wise number of senior designates by all HCs.
Greater representation of women should be ensured at all levels of the judiciary, including the SC and this initiative must come from the SC itself, considering that the power of appointment rests almost exclusively with the SC Collegium.
The judges of the SC are appointed by the President. The CJI is appointed by the President after consultation with such judges of the SC and HCs as (s)he deems necessary.
The other judges are appointed by the President after consultation with the CJI and such other judges of the SC and the HCs as (s)he deems necessary. The consultation with the CJI is obligatory in the case of appointment of a judge other than CJI.
The goal must be to achieve at least 50% representation of women in all leadership positions and there should be a mandatory training of all lawyers on gender sensitisation.
Judges, who might belong to the “old school” and are maybe “patriarchal” in outlook, should be sensitised to deal with cases of sexual violence so that they do not pass orders objectifying women in such cases.
Improving representation of women
Presently, the Supreme Court is left with only one woman judge, who is also going to retire next year, after which, the SC will be left without a woman judge.
The collegium failed to take timely steps to elevate more women judges in the SC.
In the 71 years of history of the SC, there have been only eight 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.
In the submissions filed by the AG on the issue states that improving the representation of women in the judiciary could go a long way towardsattaining a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence.
The AG also brought up the fact that there has never been a woman Chief Justice of India (CJI).
Women representation in developed countries
The situation is not any different in developed countries such as the US, UK, Ireland, France and China.
According to the data collected by Smashboard, a New Delhi and Paris-based NGO, not only has no woman ever been appointed as the CJI, the representation of women across different courts and judicial bodies is also abysmally low.
In the last few meetings of the collegium, there has been some talk of promoting women to the apex court.
In this regard, if Justice B V Nagaratha of the Karnataka High Court is elevated to the Supreme Court, she could become the first woman CJI in February 2027.
But her elevation will lead to the supersession of 32 senior judges.
Supersession itself is perceived as a threat to an independent judiciary
Seniority combined with merit is the sacrosanct criteria for promotion in the judiciary.
New CJI should secure the trust of members of his collegium to fill the backlog of 411 vacancies across high courts and six vacancies in the SC.