Justice B.V. Nagarathna while addressing at the International Women’s Day Celebrations organized by the Supreme Court Unit of the Adhivakta Parishad said that the Judiciary at every level is required to be sensitive, independent, and free from biases.

“Equity represents higher legal standards and greater individualisation in the application of law or the principles of equity, in rendering justice. The fusion of common law and equity in the common law world has, in my view, softened the former and rendered it more accommodative and inclusive of the needs of justice. The cherished image of the Lady being a symbol of Justice, donning a sword (representing power); scales (representing a balance), and a blindfold (generally accepted as representing impartiality), stands in our mind alongside the aspirational promise of a fair justice delivery system. Our justice system was formed in the backdrop of deeply pervasive hierarchies which were maintained by structures that took various forms- class, caste, gender, etc.”, she said.

She said that it is important to understand that structural inequity manifests in concrete ways; inequity is not an abstraction and embracing equity in this context would mean re-examining prevailing assumptions around legal service and justice delivery.

She further said, “If a justice system is rigid and follows a siloed approach to problem-solving, there exists the possibility that broader social and life contexts are ignored and this results in inequity. Diversification of the legal profession is critical to dismantling barriers to equity.”

She asserted that the lack of diversity on the bench and in the Bar also perpetuates the systemic lack of empathy for the circumstances and issues, particularly those affecting historically marginalized groups.

“The Judiciary, at every level is required to be sensitive, independent and free from biases. … by promoting gender diversity in the Judiciary and thereby diversifying the life experiences of those who adjudicate cases, we will be moving several steps closer towards ensuring that a multitude of perspectives have been considered, weighed and balanced in arriving at decisions. Inclusion of women in the Judiciary would also ensure that the decision-making process more responsive, inclusive and participatory at all levels”, she said.

She stressed on the importance of altering the demographics of the Judiciary, whether the District or the Higher Judiciary, to include more women Judges and said that legitimacy is a significant requirement of any decision-making body and a diverse judiciary, which gives not merely symbolic, but substantive representation to women which is indeed a necessity.

She said, “Out of 735 Judges, which is the total strength of the Supreme Court and all the High Courts, only 87 are women. The problem of underrepresentation of women in the Judiciary is not limited to India; the representation of women, even in the International Court of Justice constitutes a mere 20% of the total strength of the World Court.”

She also said that the presence of women in the Judiciary serves as a catalyst for the development of strong, independent, accessible, and gender-sensitive judicial institutions and; more broadly, the achievement of gender justice within society.

“The legal profession should be reflective of all the communities that justice seeks to serve. … While the number of women graduating from the leading law schools and working at junior levels in the legal profession is nearly equal to their male counterparts, this does not translate to equal representation at workplace or later at higher positions”, she said.

She pointed out that women still face a long-standing double standard and a double bind and they risk criticism for being too “soft” or too “strident,” too “aggressive” or “not aggressive enough.”

“How should female lawyers confront the reality of the glass ceiling and chisel away at it until they can break through to the other side? How do women confront the motherhood dilemma? These are questions that we as a legal fraternity need to deliberate and concertedly act upon. … what appears ‘assertive’ in a man often appears ‘abrasive’ in a woman”, she asserted.

She said that Vishakha vs. State of Rajasthan, A.I.R. 1997 SC 3011 was a visionary decision in many ways. She further said that the legal employers and bar associations must be prepared to translate principles into practice, and to hold their leadership accountable for the results.

“The Governments across the country can provide impetus for inclusion of qualified women lawyers in their panels by at least 30%, ensuring that work is assigned to them from across the spectrum of laws. Further, Courts across the country can appoint more women as amicus curiae to assist on issues of their expertise, more compulsorily, on issues concerning rights of women”, she suggested.

She concluded by saying that justice does not live only in courthouses and the individuals and organizations in the community are valuable justice system partners in the quest for more equitable justice delivery.

Adhivakta Parishad organized a programme on the occasion of International Women’s Day on March 21, 2023, at the auditorium of the Indian Society of International Law (ISIL), New Delhi. The central theme of the event was “Embracing Equity in Justice Delivery System— Way Ahead”. The Chief Guest for the event was Justice Hima Kohli, and Justice B.V. Nagarathna was the Guest of Honour.

Justice Hima Kohli stressed upon the need to move from equality to equity to empower women. She said, ''Equity is not just a buzzword or a slogan. It is the very foundation on which the edifice of true equality is built. Without equity, equality will remain a pipe dream.” Justice Kohli said that the Indian judiciary has played a pivotal role in promoting equity in the justice delivery system.

Justice B.V. Nagarathna, who couldn’t be physically present at the event, sent her speech which was read out to the audience. Her speech emphasized the need to have more women representation in the legal profession and the judiciary.

Click here to read/download full text of address of Justice B. V. Nagarathna

Speech of Justice Hima Kohli can be viewed here