Leila Seth, Delhi High Court’s first woman judge, passes away

She died of a cardiac arrest at her home in Noida on Friday night, her family and doctors have said.

May 06, 2017 04:51 pm | Updated 09:25 pm IST

Justice Leila Seth, first woman judge of Delhi high court at her residence in Noida 2014.

Justice Leila Seth, first woman judge of Delhi high court at her residence in Noida 2014.

Leila Seth, the first woman judge of the Delhi high court and member of the Justice J. S. Verma committee that was set up to re-look at rape laws in India after the December 16, 2012 gang rape in Delhi, died of a cardiac arrest at her home in Noida on Friday night, her family and doctors have said.

She was 86.

A family member said that there will be no cremation. Justice Leila Seth’s body will be donated to the Army Research and Referral Hospital here in Delhi for the advancement of medical sciences and research, as per her will. There will, however, be a memorial service on May 28.

Justice Leila Seth was admitted to Apollo Hospitals in Delhi eight months ago with a brain haemorrhage but was discharged following recovery. She was admitted again a couple of weeks ago with a femur fracture but was treated and discharged said Dr. Pushpendra Renjen, senior neurologist at Apollo Hospital in Delhi.

Leila Seth was considered a pioneering legal mind who was appointed the first woman judge of the Delhi HC in 1978.

Leila Seth is the mother of novelist Vikram Seth, Shantum, a Buddhist teacher and Aradhana, an artist and filmmaker.

In her life time Justice Seth broke many a glass ceiling becoming the first woman to top the London Bar exam, the first female judge of the Delhi high court, and also the first woman chief justice of a state high court (Himachal Pradesh).

She has headed and chaired numerous judicial and humanitarian institutions. She was a member of the 15th Law Commission of India from 1997 to 2000. She was also the Chair of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) for several years.

An ardent voice for human rights, she was responsible for studying the effects of the television serial, Shaktiman on children. She famously spoke for LGBT rights coming out in support of her son and writer Vikram Seth.

She was born in October 1930 in Lucknow and was the first woman to top the London Bar exam in 1958.

In 1959 she was also selected for IAS, but in pursuit of a legal career, she joined the London Bar. Justice Seth was also part of an inquiry into the custodial death of Biscuit Baron Rajan Pillai. She was responsible for the amendments to the Hindu Succession Act that gave equal rights to daughters in joint family property.

She launched her career by enrolling as an advocate in the Calcutta high court as well as the Supreme Court in 1959. It was after 20 years of legal practice that she finally became a judge at the Delhi high court.

She practised in the Patna high court for around 10 years, handling a large number of suits involving income tax, sales tax, excise and customs, civil entities, companies and criminality. She also took up matrimonial suits and public interest litigations.

She began practising in the Delhi high court from 1972, where her work involved dealing with original civil work, company petitions, writ petitions, tax matters, revisions and appeals. It was also in the same year that she launched her practice in the Supreme Court, handling tax matters, writ petitions and constitutional civil and criminal appeals.

Justice Seth had been on the panel of lawyers for the West Bengal government in the Supreme Court since June 1974. She was designated as a senior advocate by the apex judicial body on January 10, 1977.

In 1978, Justice Seth was appointed as an additional judge of the Delhi high court. Two years later, she was made a permanent judge.

0 / 0
Sign in to unlock member-only benefits!
  • Access 10 free stories every month
  • Save stories to read later
  • Access to comment on every story
  • Sign-up/manage your newsletter subscriptions with a single click
  • Get notified by email for early access to discounts & offers on our products
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide by our community guidelines for posting your comments.

We have migrated to a new commenting platform. If you are already a registered user of The Hindu and logged in, you may continue to engage with our articles. If you do not have an account please register and login to post comments. Users can access their older comments by logging into their accounts on Vuukle.