By Maya Palit
The Supreme Court of India has had only one woman judge, Justice R Banumathi, for the last two years. People were expecting that the recent Supreme Court Collegium, a meeting where senior apex court judges select other judges, would appoint a woman. But it didn’t happen: instead, the Collegium recommended four men who are High Court Chief Justices, and a High Court judge (it’s apparently rare for a person to be recommended as a Supreme Court judge if they haven’t yet become High Court Chief Justices). In the meantime, the possible appointment of two women Chief Justices, G Rohini, a Chief Justice at Delhi High Court and Manjula Chellur, a Chief Justice at Bombay High Court, had been speculated upon, but didn’t work out.
Bar and Bench reminds us of the dismal record the Supreme Court has had when it comes to appointing women judges: from its establishment in 1950, up until 1980, there weren’t any women judges, and until now there have been only six in total. That leaves women’s representation within the Supreme Court at an appallingly low figure, 2.6 per cent. Over the last two years there’s been a lot of outrage about this, with the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association in 2015 insisting to the bench that more women advocates should be considered for elevation to the position of judge. (According to an article in LiveLaw, while they did this, Justice Khehar, presiding over the bench “raised peals of laughter in a jam-packed courtroom when he said ‘No…no…no don’t say that. We are always looking for a woman judge’.” We don’t get the joke.)
In the same year, the Centre promised the Supreme Court that it would ensure that more women judges entered higher judiciary through a new system, the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC Act), but this then fell through after being declared ‘uncconstitutional’ by a Constitution bench in October in 2015. But with the Collegium system revived, we’ve been left waiting indefinitely for the direly needed improvement in the representation of women within the Supreme Court.