The Chief Justice of India SA Bobde on Thursday said that many women lawyers have declined judgeship offer citing domestic responsibilities.
"Chief Justices of High courts have stated that many women advocates, when invited to come as judges, declined the offer citing domestic responsibilities about children studying in Class 12 etc", CJI said.
Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, who was also part of the bench, said that he supported the CJI's observations. Justice Kaul added that many women lawyers have declined judgeship offer.
The bench was hearing an application filed by the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association seeking directions to consider meritorious women advocates for appointment of judges in High Courts.
When Advocate Sneha Kalita, appearing for the Association, mentioned that the matter has been filed for representation of women lawyers in High Courts, the CJI said, "Why just high courts? Time for a woman Chief Justice of India has come".
However, the bench declined to issue notice on the application.
"We don't want to issue any notice at now. We don't want to complicate things", the CJI said. The application has been filed to intervene in a case where the Court is considering the issue of filling up of vacancies of High Court judges.
Advocate Shobha Gupta, appearing for the Association, submitted that only 11% of judges are women. Advocate Kalita added that the Memorandum of Procedure for judges appointment has no whisper about women representation.
The CJI said that the issue of representation is always considered by the Collegium. However, in many instances, women themselves deny the offer citing their domestic responsibilities.
"We have the interest of women in our mind. We are implementing it in best way possible. No attitudinal change is required. Only that we need capable candidates", the CJI said.
In the application, the association highlights that the representation of women in higher judiciary is "abysmally low". Till date, only 8 women judges have been appointed in the Supreme Court. There has never been a women Chief Justice of India. Only out of 25 High Courts in the country has a woman Chief Justice (CJ Hima Kohli at Telangana High Court). Only 73 out of 661 High Court judges, which is roughly 11.04% are women. In five High Courts, namely, Manipur, Meghalaya, Patna, Tripura and Uttarakhand, there is not even a single woman judge.
Referring to Articles 14 and 15(3) of the Constitution, the Association states that higher judiciary should have adequate representation for women after giving due wieghtage for their merit.
"...the Association has a deep concern regarding adequate representation of women in Indian Higher Judiciary. The women's participation in justice delivery system is an important factor for the societal progress and gender equality which would further reflect the country's commitment towards these cardinal issues", the application states.
The application refers to the farewell speech delivered by Justice Indu Malhotra on the occasion of her retirement from the Supreme Court, where she emphasized that a society benefits when there is gender parity in the bench.
Reference is also made to a speech made by the Attorney General for India KK Venugopal, expressing concerns about the gender disparity in the bench.
In this background, the Association requests the Supreme Court to consider the suggestions on behalf of Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association for considering the elevation of Meritorious Women Lawyers practicing in Supreme Court as well as in High Courts for appointment as judges in the High Courts, whichever High Court is having lower Women judges representation and also seeking direction for adequate representation of women in higher judiciary.
The Association further seeks a direction to the Union of India to incorporate in the Memorandum of Procedures ( MOP ) for judicial appointment provisions for consideration of women judges and to expedite the process of inclusion of women judges in higher judiciary.