Sunday 31 March 2024

The role of women in the judicial world

  I have been motivated to write this article by the judgments and speeches of Justice BV Nagarathna, Judge of the Indian Supreme Court, who is in line of becoming the Chief Justice of India in 2027, whom I greatly admire, and who dissented from the majority judges more than 3 times since her elevation to the Supreme Court ( and in my opinion correctly ).

Her career is given below :

 I was particularly impressed by her speech explaining why she dissented from the majority in Vivek Narain Sharma vs Union of India ( the demonetisation case).

I agree with her views about the role of the Governors of States under the Constitution, and her criticism of the way some Governors were behaving in India.

I was also impressed by her views on the abortion debate.

Her views about women's equality are also noteworthy, as also her decision regarding hate speech.

However, I hasten to add that I admire her not because she is a woman, but because she is a great Judge.

While I am happy that more women are entering the legal professinon as lawyers, I am not a supporter of having greater representation of women in the judiciary as a means of womens' empowerment. This may sound contradictory, so I may explain.

In earlier times a lawyer's career was regarded as unsuitable for women, and there were very few women lawyers. In fact for a long time in most courts in India under the relevant rules no woman was permitted to be enrolled as a lawyer, as a woman was not regarded as a 'person'.

 I remember when I started law practice in the Allahabad High Court in 1971 there was only one lady lawyer who would come regularly to the High Court. From time to time some other young woman lawyer would come to the Court, but she would disappear after a few months. When we enquired what happened to her, we were told she had got married. In other words, she had entered the profession just to while away time before marriage, and was not serious about it.

Today in almost all courts in India, from the district courts right upto the Supreme Court, about 8-9% lawyers are women. This is of course a far cry from the ideal of 50%, but it is a great advance over almost 0%.

The view that women are unfit for the legal profession is a myth. The work of a lawyer is mental, not physical. I.Q. ( Intelligence Quotient ) tests in modern psychology have proved that an average woman's I.Q. is the same as that of an average man. Hence there is no reason why a woman cannot be a good lawyer. 

However, when it comes to appointment as a Judge, in my opinion the sole criteria should be the merit of the person being considered, and his/her sex is wholly irrelevant. After all, lawyers and litigants are only interested in high quality justice, and not the sex of the person rendering such justice. If out of all persons being considered ( on the basis of their reputation and knowledge of law ) all are found to be men, then 100% of the judges in that court should be men. On the other hand, if all are found to be women, then 100% should be women. I am totally against applying the Women's Reservation Bill, which reserves one third seats in legislatures for women, to the judiciary.

Justice Nagarathna was selected for being a Judge in the Karnataka High Court, and in the Supreme Court, not because she is a woman, but because of her profound legal acumen ( as is evident from her judgments ), and high level of integrity.

- Justice Markandey Katju

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