Chief Justice of India N V Ramana on Saturday flagged the “struggle” women lawyers face in the legal profession and their inadequate representation in the judiciary and said that even 75 years after independence, “the reality remains that the legal profession still has to welcome women into its fold”.
Speaking at a felicitation organised by the Bar Council of India for him, the CJI also pointed out that after he took over, the SC Collegium had recommended 82 names to various High Courts.
“I hope the government will ensure that the names are cleared at the earliest, just the way the nine names were cleared for the apex court,” he said.
Pointing out that the “judicial system is facing difficult challenges like that of deficient infrastructure, shortage of administrative staff and huge vacancies of judges”, CJI Ramana said that a “comprehensive proposal for creation of National Judicial Infrastructure Corporation is under preparation”.
“We have collected the status report from across the country. A proposal in this regard will reach the Hon’ble Law Minister very soon. I expect full cooperation from the government,” he said.
Speaking on the “reality” of the profession, the CJI said “…(the) majority of women advocates struggle within the profession. Very few women find representation at the top. Even when they do, they still continue to face significant challenges.”
He said, “After 75 years of independence, one would expect at least 50 per cent representation for women at all levels, but I must admit, with great difficulty we have now achieved a mere 11 per cent representation of women on the bench of the Supreme Court. Some states, because of reservation policy, may reveal higher representation, but the reality remains that the legal profession still has to welcome women into its fold.”
In his address, Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju underlined the concerns over pendency of cases in lower courts leading to denial of justice. He stressed the need to give priority to the last-mile person while dispensing justice.
“People keep on raising one issue — pendency of cases, which has become such a challenge for all of us,” the minister said. “We talk about pendency in Supreme Court and High Courts, but if we look closely, it is in the lower courts that we really need to look with urgency. When a person from a humble background, from a rural area or urban area, expects justice, he gives up everything for the sake of justice, sells off his land, his house…lifetime resources are sold off just to get justice.
“And if that justice gets delayed, it is a big question mark on all of us.”
Rijiju said that he had in some internal meetings said that where a case stretches beyond three years, it is denying justice. “After three years, the person may not require that justice because it’s not given on time,” he said. Therefore, “we have to ensure that the last-mile person, the common man, must be given priority when we speak about justice delivery mechanism in our country.”
He complimented the Supreme Court and the judiciary, saying they had set an example for the rest of the world by taking up “so many cases” and giving important decisions during the Covid-19 pandemic.
In his speech, CJI Ramana also referred to some of the harsh realities of the legal profession and said although access to the profession was limited to the rich and the privileged in the past, “slowly, the dynamics are changing within the profession. Due to change in social conditions, opportunities are opening up to all sections of the society to be lawyers and judges.”
However, aspirants from rural and vulnerable communities are not getting enrolled into the profession majorly, and “law still somehow remains an urban profession”, he said. “This is because there are several obstacles which a young advocate must overcome. The harsh reality is that without any patronisation, in spite of several years of waiting and struggle, no one can guarantee stability in the profession.”
Speaking at the ceremony, Supreme Court judge, Justice B R Gavai, compared CJI Ramana with ace batsman Sachin Tendulkar. “After he took over as CJI, as was said by one of our colleagues, that he is like Sachin Tendular, breaking records, one after another,” Justice Gavai said, recalling the decision of SC Collegium headed by the CJI to recommend nine names for appointment as judges of the top court.
“This has happened (the) first time in the country that nine judges have taken oath together,” he said.
Responding, CJI Ramana said it was a “team effort”.
“A while ago, I was referred to as Sachin Tendulkar,” he said. “I must correct the perception here. Like any game, it is a team effort. Unless all members of the team perform well, it is difficult to win. Here, I must place on record my sincere thanks to my colleagues in the Collegium — Brothers U U Lalit, A M Khanwilkar, D Y Chandrachud and L. Nageswara Rao — who have become active and constructive partners in this endeavour. Due to the collective efforts…we could reduce the number of vacancies in the apex court to just one.”