Chief Justice of India-designate Uday Umesh Lalit believes the ratio of women judges has risen considerably in the 75 years of Independence as more women find a judicial career acceptable.
State of women in judiciary –
- In high courts, the percentage of women judges is a mere 11.5%, while in the Supreme Court there are four sitting women judges out of 33 in office (about 12%).
- The situation of women lawyers in the country is not any better. Out of 1.7 million advocates registered, only 15% are women.
Is reservation a panacea for this ill?
- Reservations, while useful, stumble at higher proportions such as suggested by the CJI; they cannot alone overcome structural barriers faced by the disadvantaged group.
- They might help raise the proportion of women from, say, 10 per cent of the judiciary to, say, 25 per cent; but without an improvement in the overall gender ratio of the legal profession, they will struggle to move it from that 10 per cent to half.
How deep is the gender gap in judiciary?
- By comparison, a breakup of the partners at the 30 top Indian law firms by gender, conducted by the web site Legally India, noted that less than a third of the partners were women, and at less than a quarter of the firms the gender ratio was greater than 40 per cent female.
- The Supreme Court chooses its own senior advocates, and there are only 17 women senior advocates designated out of 430 in total.
- Even the metropolitan high courts do poorly. The Delhi High Court, the most progressive in the country, has eight women against 229 senior advocates designated.
- In the Bombay High Court, the equivalent number is six women out of 163.
Way forward –
- The fact is that the problem must be addressed throughout the system. More female judges can be found for the Supreme Court when there are more female high court judges; which will happen when there are more female senior advocates; which will happen when there are more female partners; which will happen when there are more women in the legal profession; which will happen when law schools seek out and promote the most talented women.
- In many parts of India, girls do better than boys in school-leaving examinations; there is every reason for law schools to be incentivised to take on more female candidates.
- The CJI will get his wish for equal representation when the judicial class takes the lead in reforming the structural biases within the legal profession.