Women as senior advocates, any takers?

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Bombay High Court : Since 1991, there have been only 3 women among 81 designations

MEENA MENON IN THE HINDU

There have been only three women among the 81 senior advocates designated by the Bombay High Court from 1991 to 2010. Since 2006, no women have been designated as senior advocates; this year too, there were none among the 15 names decided by the High Court.

This year, only one woman, a senior lawyer with over 35 years’ experience, had applied, and she was not selected. Women are diffident about applying for the senior advocates’ designation and even if they do, they are not sure of getting it. And the whole process is shrouded in secrecy. S B Shukre, Registrar General, Bombay High Court, refused to give any details regarding the selection process, the number of applicants and how many women had applied for the designation of senior advocate. Saying that the information was confidential, he suggested that an application may be filed under the Right to Information Act. Rajani Iyer, who was made senior advocate in 2006 along with Ms. K.V. Sirpurkar, says: “I waited to apply till I was invited/asked to apply. I didn’t want to do so otherwise. Perhaps I got lucky when I was appointed.” In addition to a certain amount of diffidence, there is a lack of women applicants. It is a two way-street, she explains. “Why don’t senior women advocates apply for this position despite having a well-rounded practice?” she asks. To be appointed senior advocate is prestigious. “You don’t have to draft petitions and you are given sole responsibility for the case. It’s exciting and challenging,” Ms. Iyer says.

When asked if there was discrimination in the selection process, she points out that the question of discrimination can arise only if women are denied from among a large number of applicants. “The bias or inequity is in the number of women applying. How many women can get recommendations from four senior advocates for the application? That is also the question. Also there are so few women from the criminal side. Freny Ponda was the last advocate from the criminal side.” So far there have been only eight women senior advocates in Mumbai, and among them are Indira Jaising, Sujata Manohar and Phiroza Anklesaria.

To apply for the position, one must have four recommendations from senior advocates, at least 15 years standing as an advocate, reference to at least ten reported judgments in cases in which the applicant has appeared as arguing counsel and contributed to the making of law, among other things. The proposals from advocates are vetted by the Registrar General and then decided upon by the Full Court. The acceptance of the Full Court shall be accorded only if not less then two-thirds of the judges present in the meeting vote in favour of the applications from the advocates.

‘Election, not selection’

A senior lawyer who was turned away after applying for the position in 2011 says, on condition of anonymity, that the voting is done in a secret ballot and is an election, rather than a selection. And the results and number of votes each candidate gets is not made public. While a list had been put up on the high court website, the rejected candidates had not been informed. They cannot apply for two years now. The applicant must know how many votes he or she has got. The whole process, the senior lawyer says, lacks transparency and is vitiated by this secrecy.

A senior woman lawyer, who does not wish to be named, too says the process lacks transparency and that there has to be some objective criteria. If deserving people do not get elevated, then the whole systems suffers, she feels. As a woman lawyer, she herself has not experienced discrimination like many others. However, she concedes that there is a low opinion in general about women lawyers, who lack ambition, albeit that was changing now. She adds that family connections matter in the appointments to the senior counsel.

The appointment of senior counsels is one area where women find no place. Male lawyers never let you feel like an insider; women remain outsiders, according to a young lawyer. Another senior lawyer said there were fewer women lawyers out there but that they were bright. However, many drop out due to various reasons and the judiciary has its own caste system and hierarchy, which was perpetuated everywhere. Women have no place in this. “You join a particular chamber so you go ahead in your career. Women can’t even get into these places,” he says. There are few women judges and if they are appointed it’s a quota.

In addition to this, it is difficult for women, sometimes, who have families to look after, and the court offers no flexibility in terms of time and place, according to a yound woman lawyer. Once you take a break it is difficult to re-establish yourself and not many women make it through the first 20 years of their practice. Things could also be changing with more women coming into the profession determined to stick it out.

Meanwhile, when advocate M.P. Vashi filed a PIL petition in the Bombay High Court on the selection of senior advocates under section 16 of the Advocates Act, he was told to file it in the Supreme Court. Mr. Vashi said the rules setting the criteria for senior advocates went against the principles of making legal aid available cheaply. To apply for the position of senior advocate one had to have an annual income of Rs.7.5 lakh. “The idea is to make legal aid cheaper and here the rules are encouraging the lawyers to charge more fees,” he said. He said there was no clear criteria to judge the competence of those who would be selected for the position of senior advocate and the whole practice must be done away with.

Source: http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/article2482763.ece

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Justice Katju: A colourful judge with a social conscience

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

JUSTICE MARKANDEY KATJU JUDGE SUPREME COURT

DHANANJAY MAHAPATRA IN THE TIMES OF INDIA

Two decades ago, the Supreme Court set exacting standards for judges. In All India Judges Association case, the SC had said in 1992, “The conduct of every judicial officer should be above reproach. He should be conscientious, studious, thorough, courteous, patient, punctual, just, impartial, fearless of public clamour, regardless of public praise, and indifferent to private, political or partisan influences.”

It added, “He should administer justice according to law, and deal with his appointment as public trust, he should not allow other affairs or his private interests to interfere with the prompt and proper performance of his judicial duties, nor should he administer the office for purpose of advancing his personal ambitions or increasing his popularity.”

It is difficult to test Supreme Court judges against the 1992 norms. Most maintain a discernable degree of discipline in demeanour, dealings and decisions while deciding cases.

But Justice Markandey Katju was different. During his five-and-a-half year stint as an SC judge, he was an enigma — lovable yet distasteful, respectful yet disdainful, courteous in one moment and rough in the next. In his court room, polite conversations could suddenly turn into a vicious diatribe.

How does one describe a personality like Justice Katju? Could his judgments and observations in the court give a clue? It is said judges speak through their judgments. But did he conform to this? Difficult to say.

Coming from the renowned Katju family of Allahabad, he was a first divisioner throughout his academic career. Probably that – getting first division in every examination he appeared in — was the only thing that was constant for him. Everything else was fluid and dynamic.

Justice Katju was a staunch advocate of judicial restraint. He was against public interest litigations which invited judiciary to foray into the domains of executive and legislature. But, he did not flinch in converting innocuous petitions into PILs and kept giving directions to the chief secretaries.

To the credit of the man, he seldom hid his feelings and always wanted to do something for society that would leave a lasting impression. If he did a thorough job before rejecting a mercy killing plea advanced on behalf of Aruna Shanbaug, who had been leading a vegetative life in a Mumbai hospital for last 38 years after a violent sexual assault, then his efforts towards rehabilitation of sex workers will be remembered fondly for a long time in the red light districts across India.

When many feared to dwell openly about incidents of corruption in higher judiciary, Justice Katju jolted the judicial community by boldly recording in a judgment “something is rotten in Allahabad High Court” and referred to sons and kin of sitting judges becoming multi-millionaires in a short span of time.

He gave the impression of being a stickler for rules and laws, but went against a constitution bench judgment to advocate revival of anticipatory bail provision in Uttar Pradesh.

Justice Katju often ridiculed counsel for not reading the petition and the questions of law involved in it. But he himself was found wanting when he ruled that “mere membership of a banned organisation” was no offence though the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) clearly provided that it was a punishable offence.

English may be the language of the court but it did not prevent Justice Katju from frequently lapsing into Hindi. On social issues, his judgments began with an Urdu couplet.

No advocate dared challenge his knowledge either in law or in Urdu. Justice Katju loved engaging lawyers in light banter, but threatened to dismiss the petition if the counsel proved equal to the task in a debate that spilled off the judicial ring.

There was seldom a dull day in his court room. His retirement brought an end to a colourful tenure of an enigmatic judge. When a senior advocate’s comment was sought on Justice Katju’s retirement, he said, “Thank God, India does not follow the US Supreme Court system.”

In US Supreme Court, a person is appointed judge for life. In India, Supreme Court judges retire on attaining the age of 65 years.

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Justice-Katju-A-colourful-judge-with-a-social-conscience/articleshow/10120508.cms

Sex Workers Rehabilitation Case latest orders of the Honourable Supreme Court of India

This case was initially a criminal appeal, but later was converted into a Public Interest Litigation suo motu by our order dated 14th February, 2011. By that order we dismissed the criminal appeal of the appellant and upheld his conviction. However, we were of the opinion that the problems of sex workers required urgent attention by this Court. Hence, we proceeded thereafter to continue with the case as a Public Interest Litigation and passed several orders    thereon,     including      an       order   dated     19.07.2011 setting up a Panel with Mr. Pradip Ghosh, Senior Advocate, as its Chairman.

Today, the case has been listed again before us and a Third    Interim     Report   dated  12.09.2011 of     the   Panel appointed by our order dated 19.07.2011 has been filed before us by the Chairman of the Panel Mr. Pradip Ghosh, learned senior counsel.

From a perusal of the report submitted by the Panel report it appears that the Panel has been doing very good and sincere work in connection with the task which we have entrusted to it. The Panel has taken great pains and has held    regular   meetings   to     discuss      the    problem   of    sex workers. We have earlier pointed out in one of our orders that the problem of sex workers cannot be resolved in a very short time and will require long, patient effort. 

Our  initial aim was to create awareness in the public that sex workers are not bad girls, but they are in this profession      due    to    poverty. No   girl    would   ordinarily enjoy this kind of work, but she is compelled to do it for    sheer   survival.       Most     sex    workers   come   from    poor families,   they    are    subjected       to   ill    treatment   by    the owners of the brothels, they are often beaten, not givenproper food or medical treatment, and made to do this degrading work. Probably much of the money paid by their customers is taken away by others.

 We are happy to note that the Panel has set about its task in right earnest, and is considering ways and means to implement our ideas so that the sex workers can get some technical training through  which they can earn their livelihood and thus lead a life of dignity which is guaranteed by Article 21 of the Constitution of India

In the Third Interim Report the Panel has prayed for the following :-

(a)    An appropriate order directing the State Governments and the Local Authorities to issue Ration Cards to the sex workers treating them as persons in special category and relaxing the rigours of the Rules/requirements regarding the verification   of   their   address   and without mentioning their profession in the Card;

 (b) An appropriate order be made directing the Central Government and the Election Commission to issue Voter’s Identity Cards to the sex workers in relaxation of the rules/requirements in that behalf and without insisting on strict proof of their address/profession and without specifying their profession on the face of the Card;

(c.) An order be made directing the Central Government and the State Governments to ensure that the admission of the children of sex workers     in appropriate classes in the Government schools and Government sponsored schools and the schools run   by   the   Municipal   and  District   level authorities is not hampered in any way, because of their impaired social status.

(d) An appropriate order be made directing the Central Government to suitably alter and widen the UJWALA Scheme within a period of six months as directed by order dated 24.08.2011 (vide paragraph 26 of the said order) made in this matter.

(e) An order or direction be made to the effect hat the amount paid or to be paid by the Central Government, State Governments and the Union     Territories to the Secretary General of this Hon’ble   Court  as   directed   by  order   dated 24.08.2011, be deposited in the Bank Account of the Panel in the UCO Bank Supreme Court Compound Branch, in the name of “Panel Appointed by Supreme Court in Criminal Appeal No. 135/2011”      to be     operated jointly by the Chairman of the Panel Mr. Pradip Ghosh and Mr. Jayant Bhusan, a member of the Panel, in terms of the order dated     24.08.2011.

(f) Such appropriate orders as may be deemed fit  and proper be made, for compliance by the Central Government of the earlier order made by the     Hon’ble Court on 24.08.2011 with regard to office accommodation, secretarial staff assistance and furnishing     the     office    with    necessary infrastructure and to furnish report of compliance  in this Hon’ble Court within a period to be fixed by the Hon’ble Court.”

 We are of the opinion that the suggestions of the Panel are   good      suggestions. Sex   workers    face     great difficulty      in   getting       ration      cards,    voter’s     identity cards or in opening bank accounts, etc. We are of the opinion that the authorities should see to it that sex workers do not face these difficulties as they are also citizens of India and have the same fundamental rights as others.

We, therefore, recommend that the suggestions made by the Panel in its Third Interim Report (which has been quoted above) shall be seriously taken into consideration by the Central Government, the State Governments and other authorities      and      hence    all    efforts       shall   be   made    to implement these suggestions expeditiously. If there is any difficulty in implementing them, then on the next date we should be told about such difficulty.

Needless to    say,     without      a   proper     office      and infrastructure the Panel will not be able to discharge its duties properly. We, therefore, again request the Central Government and the State Government of Delhi to do the needful in this connection expeditiously.

 We are informed that in pursuance of our order dated 24.08.2011 the  Central Government has deposited a sum of Rs. 10 Lakh with the Secretary General of this Court. Some of the States/Union Territories have made payment as directed   by   us.   However,   some   of   the   States/Union Territories are yet to make payment. We direct that those States or Union Territories which have not yet made payment shall make payment within three weeks from today (except those which have no sex workers).

We further direct that the amount deposited with the Secretary General of this Court shall be transferred to the account of the Panel in the UCO Bank, Supreme Court Compound Branch in Savings A/C No. 02070210000939.

List this case on 15.11.2011 by which time another report shall be submitted by the Panel. We hope and trust that the recommendations made by the Panel will be implemented by then by the concerned authorities.

J   (MARKANDEY KATJU)

J (GYAN SUDHA MISRA)