New Delhi: Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Tuesday rued the fact women in the legal profession face bias, both from their colleagues or litigants, and this affects not just advocates, but also those on the bench.
In his address at the felicitation of Supreme Court judge Justice Hima Kohli by Women in Law and Litigation (WILL), he said: “There are various barriers that women face in the legal profession that merit consideration… the continued prevalence of certain attitudes about the role of women in society. This issue is a problem a woman faces regardless of the type of employment. Another issue is the bias that women face, whether from their colleagues or litigants. This bias affects not just women advocates, but also those on the bench.”
He added that this creates “a completely unwelcome atmosphere” within courtrooms for women and it is the duty of all lawyers and judges to ensure that a friendly environment is created in courtrooms.
On the aspect of women representation in the judiciary, the CJI said: “The demand for higher representation beyond 50 per cent on the Bench in view of the backlog of under representation of women is taken note of. I promise to take up your demand with my Brothers in the collegium.”
He added that women constitute only around 30 per cent of the judges in the lower judiciary on average and some states have a good number of women judges, whereas in other states, the representation is abysmal.
“In High Courts, the percentage of women judges is a mere 11.5 per cent. In the Supreme Court, we have four sitting women judges, out of 33 in office. The situation of women lawyers in the country is not any better. Out of 1.7 million advocates registered, only 15 per cent are women,” he added.
Chief Justice Ramana said recently while hearing a very sensitive matter, Justice Kohli had observed that “you’re dragging your feet” and this was the only observation she made. He added that next day all headlines were on that quote. He said that she was “a little scared and asked me if she had made a mistake but I told her there is nothing wrong and you’re entitled to express your views”.
He emphasised that there can be no denying that the inclusion of women as judges and lawyers in the country will substantially improve the justice delivery system.
“Women can bring a different perspective to the law which will enrich the legal field. In this endeavour, associations like WILL are essential. Being an association that is formed by women in law, for women in law, you are specially placed to raise issues facing women and to suggest and push for changes to the status quo,” he added.
Chief Justice Ramana also said: “As a person who had his education in Telugu medium till, I joined law course, I have an appeal to make to you all mothers. Please encourage your children to speak in your mother tongue. This will help them think better and learn better.”
“Finally, I would like to request all of you here, eminent women lawyers and Judges at the top of this profession, to raise your voices about the changes that can be made to improve the working conditions and representation of women in the legal profession. I will support such initiatives with all my heart.”