Attorney General KK Venugopal while replying to a plea filed by nine women lawyers, told the top court that increasing women judges in the judiciary can be helpful in dealing with the non-empathetic approach of judges in cases of sexual violence. He also brought to focus on the fact that there has never been a female CJI (Chief Justice of India).
The plea filed by nine women lawyers led by Supreme Court advocate Aparna Bhat questioned the bail conditions imposed by the Madhya Pradesh (MP) High Court wherein an accused molester was asked to get a Rakhi tied by the woman as a condition for enlargement on bail. The petition cited orders from other High Courts to highlight the non-empathetic approach of judges in cases of sexual violence and stated that the apex court has only two women judges, as against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges.
Supreme Court advocate Aparna Bhat and eight other women lawyers have challenged (before the Apex Court) one of the Bail Conditions in the Bail Order dated July 30 passed by Madhya Pradesh High Court, wherein the Court had imposed a bail condition upon the person (accused of outraging the modesty of his neighbor) to request the victim to tie the rakhi around his wrist. In this case, the Court had requested the Attorney General to assist it in the matter. In the written submission, the Attorney general pointed out that the representation of women is consistently low across the Higher Judiciary. As per sources, the accused molested the woman but he was granted bail after he agreed to get a rakhi tied by her.
AG Venugopal in his written submissions also suggested measures to improve the strength of women in the judiciary. He suggested the collection of data to determine the number of women judges in the lower judiciary and in tribunals while further citing that the same should be done to determine the number of seniors designates by all High Courts, year-wise. He also suggested the need to ensure greater representation of women at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court.
“Improving the representation of women in the judiciary could also go a long way towards a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence. For instance, this Court (SC) only has 2 women judges, as against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges. There has never been a female Chief Justice of India,” the AG said in his written submissions.
AG Venugopal Submissions to the Court
- 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 percent 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 consists of Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura, Telangana, and Uttarakhand, where no sitting judges include any woman judge. At the same time, there is only one woman judge in six other High Courts of the country.
- Currently, no data is centrally maintained on the number of women in tribunals or lower courts.
AG Venugopal Suggestions
- Direct collection of data to determine the number of women judges in the lower judiciary
- Direct collection of data to determine the number of women judges in tribunals
- Direct collection of data to determine the number of seniors designate by all High Courts, year wise
- Ensure greater representation of women at all levels of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court. 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.