Judiciary | National

Women judges in Supreme Court have short tenures

Justice B.V. Nagarathna takes oath as a Supreme Court judge in the Supreme Court premises in New Delhi. File

Justice B.V. Nagarathna takes oath as a Supreme Court judge in the Supreme Court premises in New Delhi. File | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Eleven women judges have adorned the Supreme Court, but a majority of them have a tenure of less than five years.

Only Justice Ruma Pal has completed a tenure of a little over six years between January 2000 and June 2006.

Justice B.V. Nagarathna, expected to be India’s first woman Chief Justice of India in September 2027, has also a tenure of just over six years from August 2021 to October 2027. Justice Nagarathna’s tenure as Chief Justice would however be only a little over a month before she retires from the court.

Both Justice Fathima Beevi, who was appointed as the first woman Supreme Court judge in October 1989 nearly six months after her retirement from the Kerala High Court, and Justice Indu Malhotra, who was the first woman advocate to be directly elevated as Supreme Court judge, individually created history. But their time on the apex court Bench was less than three years. Quite short considering the fact that a little of five years is the average tenure for a judge in the apex court.

Justices Ranjana P. Desai and Gyan Sudha Misra were apex court judges for less than four years before retiring. Justices Hima Kohli and Bela M. Trivedi would also spend less than four years in the top court. Justices Kohli, Trivedi and Nagarathna’s entry marked the first time three women judges were appointed at the same time in the Supreme Court.

Their presence along with that of Justice Indira Banerjee is the first time the Supreme Court has four serving women judges.

However, Justice Banerjee is due to retire in September 2022. She would have by then only spent less than four years in the top court, quite like Justice Sujata Manohar who served as judge between 1994 and 1999.

In a recent speech, Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana said the appointment of women judges should not be reduced to a mere “symbolic gesture”. The CJI said the court would definitely benefit from the rich experience and nuanced understanding of the law women judges bring to the table.

Short tenures of office as judge in the Supreme Court likely reduces chances of being part of a Constitution Benches which decide important questions of law. Justice Banumathi, who served as judge for a little less than six years, was part of a nine-judge Bench combination scheduled to examine matters of religious freedom originating from the Sabarimala review verdict. But the pandemic and her retirement left the job unfinished.

Short tenures may also mean not being part of or less time as a member of the powerful Supreme Court collegium.

"In High Courts, women judges constitute 11.5%. Here in the Supreme Court, we currently have four women justices out of the sitting 33. That makes it just 12%. Of the 1.7 million advocates, only 15% are women,” Chief Justice Ramana revealed the huge absence of women professionals in the field of law and justice.


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Printable version | Mar 27, 2022 10:12:19 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/women-judges-in-supreme-court-have-short-tenures/article65262749.ece