Stressing the need for greater gender sensitisation among members of the judiciary, Attorney General K K Venugopal said Wednesday that “improving the representation of women in the judiciary could… go a long way towards a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence”.
The Attorney General said this in his written submission to the Supreme Court which is hearing a plea against a bail condition of the Madhya Pradesh High Court which asked a man, who is an accused in a case of attempt to outrage the modesty of a woman, to visit the home of the alleged victim and request her to tie a rakhi.
Venugopal told the bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and S Ravindra Bhat that judges, who belong to the “old school” and may be “patriarchal” in outlook, should be sensitised so that they do not pass orders objectifying women in cases of sexual violence. He also called for mandatory training of all lawyers on gender sensitisation.
Holding the mirror to the judiciary, Venugopal said the Supreme Court “only has 2 women judges, as against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges” and “there has never been a female Chief Justice of India”. This figure, he said, is “consistently low across the Higher Judiciary”.
“There are only 80 women judges out of the total sanctioned strength of 1,113 judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court across India… Out of these 80 women judges, there are only two in the Supreme Court, and the other 78 are in various High Courts, comprising only 7.2 per cent of the total number of judges.”
“Of the 26 courts whose data was accessed, including the Supreme Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has the maximum strength of women judges (11 out of 85 judges) in the country, followed by the Madras High Court (9 out of 75 judges). There are eight women judges in both Delhi and Bombay High Courts….There are six High Courts, which consist of Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura, Telangana, and Uttarakhand, where no sitting judges include any woman judge. At the same time, there is an only one-woman judge in six other High Courts of the country,” he said.
“Currently, no data is centrally maintained on the number of women in tribunals or lower courts.” He also highlighted the question of senior designation of lawyers, pointing out that “there are only 17 women senior counsel designates in the Supreme Court, as opposed to 403 men”.
“The Delhi High Court has 229 men and 8 women designates. Similarly, in the Bombay High Court, there are 6 women and 157 men designates,” the Attorney General said. To remedy the situation, the Supreme Court, he said, must direct collection of data 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.
Besides, it should also “ensure greater representation of women at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court”.
Venugopal stressed that “this initiative must come from the Supreme Court itself, considering that the power of appointment rests almost exclusively with the Supreme Court Collegium. The goal must be to achieve at least 50% representation of women in all leadership positions”.
Referring to the MP HC issue and other instances, he said “wide prevalence of such orders makes it clear that there is a need for urgent intervention of this Court to, firstly, declare that such remarks are unacceptable and have the potential to cause grave harm to the victim and to society at large, and secondly, reiterate that judicial orders have to conform to certain judicial standards, and thirdly, take necessary steps to ensure that this does not happen in the future”.
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