Chief Justice of India D Y Chandrachud on Saturday flagged the "abysmal" women-to-men ratio in the legal profession and called for ensuring equal opportunities for women, asserting that there was no dearth of young, talented women lawyers.
He was speaking at an event held here to mark the foundation-stone-laying ceremony for the Additional Court Buildings in the District Court campus and the inauguration of the District and Sessions Court and that of the Court of the Chief Judicial Magistrate at Mayiladuthurai.
The event was attended by Union Law Minister Kiren Rijiju and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, among others.
Rijiju touched upon the alleged disagreements between the government and the judiciary and said it didn't mean that there was a confrontation between them.
Stalin requested the CJI to ensure social justice in the appointment of judges to the High Courts and the Supreme Court.
In his address, Justice Chandrachud said recruiting chambers were being "sceptical" about employing women, assuming that their "familial" responsibilities would come in the way of their profession.
Citing the "abysmal" women-to-men ratio in the legal professiuon, Justice Chandrachud said, "Statistics inform us that for 50,000 male enrolments in Tamil Nadu, there are only 5,000 female enrolments."
"The legal profession is not an equal-opportunity provider for women, and the statistics are the same all over the country," he said. "The phase is changing. In the recent recruitment in the district judiciary, over 50 percent are women. But we have to create equal opportunities for women so that they do not fall by the wayside because of the fact that they undertake multifold responsibilities as they progress in life.
"Chambers are sceptical about recruiting young women advocates. The reason for that is not a lack of young talented women," he said. "There is no lack of talented young women." Stating that there were prominent stereotypes against women that translated into women being denied opportunities, the CJI said, "Firstly, recruiting chambers assume that women would be unable to put in long hours at work because of familial responsibilities. We should all firstly understand that childbearing and childcare is a choice and women should not be punished for taking up that responsibility."
A young male lawyer may also choose to be actively involved in childcare and family care. "But as a society we force the responsibility of family care only on the women and then use that very bias against women that we hold, to deny them opportunities," he rued.
"If a woman wants to balance work with family care, it is our responsibilty to provide institutional support. Setting up creche facilities in all court complexes across the country is an important step in that direction," CJI Chandrachud said. "The Supreme Court of India and the Delhi High Court have already led the way on this front, and it is time the rest of the country follows suit."
He requested the Chief Justice of the Madras High Court to take steps in setting up creche facilities at the High Court and all the district courts, saying this would go a long away in improving working conditions and providing substantative equal opportunities for women.
Stressing on the need to enhance entry-level pay for junior lawyers, he said the pay in Madurai for young law graduates was just between Rs 5,000-12,000 per month.
Such poor pay disproportionately impacted members of marginalised communities such as SCs, STs and women, he said adding that the impact of it could be seen in the fact that "the entry-level barrier" forced young graduates to take up other work, unrelated to their branch of study, just to make ends meet.
"The usual defence by recruiting chambers for such low pay is that the first few years of a young associate’s career is a learning stage where the senior mentors them," he said. "Please shed away this paternalistic approach."
The judiciary was "choking" with pending cases, the CJI said, even as he stressed the need for more infrastructure to ensure better working environs for judicial officers.
Outlining various steps, he said, "We have introduced the hybrid system by which lawyers can appear before the Supreme Court both physically and virtually.
"This facility enables the seamless connection between a judge sitting at Tilak Marg in Delhi and an advocate residing in Melur or Virudhunagar. Additionally, we have started live-streaming all Constitution bench cases. This provides students from Government Law Colleges in Madurai or Trichy the opportunity to watch Supreme Court proceedings," he said.
During the covid pandemic, high courts and the district judiciary heard 2.62 crore cases through video conferencing. Between March 23, 2020 to February 13, 2023, the SC heard 4,13,537 cases through VC, he added.
Rijiju, in his address, denied any clash between the government and judiciary as speculated in the media, and said that disagreements were inevitable in a democracy but they should not be construed as confrontation.
"We have differences, but it doesn't mean there is confrontation. It sends a wrong message across the world. I want to make it clear that there is no problem between different organs of the State. There are signs of robust democratic actions, which are not a crisis," he emphasised.
Pointing to some media reports of alleged disagreements between the government and the Supreme Court, or the legislature and judiciary, the Union Minister said, "We must understand that we are in a democracy. There are bound to be certain differences in terms of some outlook but you can't have conflicting positions. This doesn't mean confrontation. We are the largest democracy in the world."
The Centre would support the Indian judiciary to be independent, he said, and called upon the bench and the bar -- being two sides of the same coin -- to work together to ensure that the court complex is not divided. "One can't exist without the other. Court must have proper decorum and conducive atmosphere."
In his address, Stalin said steps should be taken to allow Tamil to be used as the court language in Madras High Court along with English and to establish Supreme Court Benches at least in the cities of Chennai, Mumbai and Kolkata. "We have already written on all these demands to the Union Government. I hope the Chief Justice and Union Minister for Law will consider our demands favourably," he said, urging them.
The CJI said that for enabling the usage of Tamil as an official language in the High Court, a constitutional amendment may have to be made to Article 348 of the Constitution which prescribes English as the language of court proceedings at the High Court and Supreme Court.
-With PTI Input