New Delhi: A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India S.A. Bobde on Thursday said the time has come for a woman Chief Justice of India, however when women lawyers are asked to come on the bench, they refuse citing family responsibilities.

The observation from the Chief Justice came during the mentioning of an application filed by the Supreme Court Women Lawyers Association (SCWLA), through advocate Sneha Kalita, to consider elevating experienced women lawyers from the top court as High Court’s judges, as a step to increase the number of women judges in the judiciary. SCWLA, in the application, said women’s participation in the justice delivery system is an important factor for societal progress and gender equality.

Chief Justice Bobde said, “We think the time has come for woman Chief Justice of India. Kalita submitted the memorandum of procedure (MoP), but does not have a whisper on women judges’ appointment.”

The bench also comprising Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Surya Kant replied: “Chief Justices of High Courts stated that when lawyers are asked to come on the bench, they deny saying that they have domestic responsibility or their children are in class 11 or 12.” The bench clarified that this information has been communicated to the court, when women lawyers declined to accept judgeship.

The bench said, “we have the interest of women in mind only and that, we need only capable candidates.” Concluding the hearing in the matter, the Chief Justice said we will deliberate what to say in the matter, however the top court did not issue notice.

The application filed by SCWLA highlighted the “abysmally low” 11.04 per cent share of women as judges in higher judiciary. The application also gave a chart on women judges presently posted in various High Courts across the country. “From the chart it is reflected that, from the 1,080 of sanctioned strength of judges (including both Permanent and Additional Judges) we have 661 number of judges out of which, only 73 are women judges which accounts for a 11.04 of women judges”, said the plea.

The women lawyer association sought from the top court to issue an appropriate order/direction to the Secretary, Department of Justice, Ministry of Law & Justice, government of India to expedite the process of inclusion and appointment of women judges on meritorious ground to the respective Supreme Court and High Court benches.

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