Justice Sabrina McKenna of Hawaii Supreme Court has said that there are “too few women” in the higher levels of Indian judiciary. She also called presence of only three women judges in the apex court in New Delhi as just “token representation”. McKenna was in New Delhi on the invitation of OP Jindal Global University Vice Chancellor C Raj Kumar where she discussed about the lack of women in the higher levels of judiciary.

She said that while she has great respect for some of the judges of the Supreme Court of India, she has an issue with the “lack of diversity, especially in terms of women” and “apparent bias against women in India’s judiciary in terms of leadership”.

It is very concerning that the women in the high courts and the Supreme Court are so few when it comes to the percentage of women. All you have is token representation. – Justice Sabrina McKenna

What Did McKenna Say?

“It is very concerning that the women in the High Courts and the Supreme Court are so few when it comes to the percentage of women. All you have is token representation. Look at the high courts and the Apex court, there are very few women judges,” Justice McKenna told PTI.

She asked the pertinent question, “Why more eminently qualified women are not being appointed to high courts and the Supreme Court?” She also suggested that there should be studies and researches on this issue.

“There is bias against women in India in terms of judicial leadership, although people here don’t seem to realise their bias. I hope to see a diverse judiciary in India, not just in terms of gender…,” she added.

While the Hawaii SC judge did not comment on the process of the collegium in hiring judges, she did advise on having a transparent system, “When judges select judges, you tend to select people who are like yourself. People are people. They are more comfortable with people like them.”

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McKenna proposed that women lawyers should be given important cases and a chance to argue so that they can prove their mettle. She added that as a young lawyer, she was given such opportunities by enlightened male attorneys. Her perspective revolves around bottom-to-top approach where women law students should be encouraged and create support groups for each other and have men in power positions to motivate them.

Let the women speak, let them be heard, and honour their presence. If you have a panel discussion, include them and ensure there are women speakers

“Let the women speak, let them be heard, and honour their presence. If you have a panel discussion, include them and ensure that there are women speakers,” she said.

Why Is This Important?

Of the total 16,600 judges in district and subordinate courts across the country, less than 4,500 are women, as per reports. Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy, a legal think-tank, released data which showed that out of the 16,660 judges in lower courts, only 4,487 were women, which was merely 27% of the total count. The figure was 11% in high courts and 9% in the Supreme Court.

Recently on International Women’s Day, eminent lawyer Indira Jaising penned an open letter to Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi about elimination of sexist language in Indian courts.

The letter came following an exchange in court where Jaising, who is a senior Supreme Court advocate, asked Attorney General K K Venugopal to withdraw his comment where he referred to her as lawyer Anand Grover’s wife. “I am a person in my own right,” she retorted.

Picture credit- Indian Express

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