Attorney General K K Venugopal on Wednesday told the Supreme Court that there has never been a female Chief Justice of India and improving the representation of women in the judiciary could also go a long way towards a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence.
The top law officer pointed out that the Supreme Court currently has only two women judges as against the sanctioned strength of 34 judges and this figure is consistently low across the higher judiciary.
A bench of Justices A M Khanwilkar and S Ravindra Bhat was told by Venugopal that currently no data is centrally maintained on the number of women in tribunals or lower courts.
“Improving the representation of women in the judiciary could also go a long way towards a more balanced and empathetic approach in cases involving sexual violence. For instance, this Court only has two women judges, as against a sanctioned strength of 34 judges. There has never been a female Chief Justice of India. This figure is consistently low across the Higher Judiciary,” he said, Venugopal gave his suggestion to the bench in an appeal filed by advocate Aparna Bhat against a Madhya Pradesh High Court order granting bail to an accused in a molestation case on the condition that he requests the alleged victim to tie a ‘rakhi’.
Suggesting that data should be collected from all High Courts, lower courts and tribunal, Venugopal said efforts should be made for greater representation of women at all levels of the judiciary.
Giving the data in his written submission, he said that there are only 80 women judges out of the total sanctioned strength of 1,113 judges in the High Courts and the Supreme Court across India.
He said that out of these 80 women judges, there are only two in the Supreme Court, and the other 78 are in various High Courts, comprising only 7.2 per cent of the total number of judges.
“Of the 26 courts whose data was accessed, including the Supreme Court, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has the maximum strength of women judges (11 out of 85 judges) in the country, followed by the Madras High Court (9 out of 75 judges). There are eight women judges in both Delhi and Bombay High Courts,” his written submission said.
He said that there are six High Courts--Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura, Telangana, and Uttarakhand--where no sitting judges include any woman judge.
Bhat who also filed her written submission said, “It is submitted that no observation/condition should be included in the judgement which reflects bias and affects the dignity of a woman. It is further submitted that no observation/condition should be made which affects the conduct of the trial in a fair and unbiased manner”.
She contended that no observation/condition should be made which permits the accused to meet/have access to the victim and her family members.
“It is submitted that no observation/condition should be made which initiates and encourages compromise that normalizes an otherwise heinous crime thus indicating a mindset, which accepts such offences. It is further submitted that no observation/condition should be made which notes that the best option for the victim is to marry the accused,” she said in her written submission.
Referring to various cases where objectionable bail conditions were imposed, Bhat said, “It is submitted that in POCSO cases, no observation/condition should be made which takes note of the fact that the victim has attained majority and that the accused has offered to marry her”.
She submitted that no observation/condition should be made which allows bail in favour of an accused for the purpose of solemnizing marriage with the victim or on the ground that the victim is of “loose character” or is “habituated to sexual intercourse”.
She sought directions to the High Courts, trial courts to ensure that in every order that they pass in relation to cases of sexual violence against women and children, there should be no observation made, conditions imposed or directions passed which are extraneous to the facts and circumstances of the case.