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The Rise of Women in the Lower Judiciary

Breaking through the Old Boys’ Club

While there is some empirical work on the state of gender diversity in the higher judiciary in India, academic work on this topic in the context of the lower judiciary is sparse. A data-driven analysis of the trends of women’s entry into the lower judiciary between 2007 and 2017, across multiple states at two levels (civil judge [junior division] and district judge [direct recruitment from the bar]), points to a direct relationship between methods of recruitment and women’s representation in the judiciary. At the same time, this data helps identify barriers that frustrate the goal of improved gender representation.

Diversity in public institutions (such as, gender, caste, religion, ethnicity, social and economic backgrounds, physical ability) arguably sensitises the institutions to community needs, enhances social dialogue and improves communication across society. This article focuses on diversity in the lower judiciary. Although a subject of academic and popular discourse globally, in India, this issue has received only intermittent attention. Since its inception, the Supreme Court has seen only eight women judges. Currently, not more than 10% of the judges in high courts are women (Ghosh et al 2018). This is not the first time that the lack of representation has been flagged as a concern. The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (2011) recommended that reservation for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs) be introduced in the judiciary to ensure greater representation. The 99th Report on the Department-Related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice (2019) recommended reservation for women in state judicial cadres and law schools.

Some data is available around diversity in the higher judiciary (Chandra et al 2018; Kumar 2016; Chandrachud 2011a, 2011b) and to a limited extent, in family courts in India (Chanda 2014). But, when it comes to the lower/subordinate judiciary, there is no regularly collated and publicly available historical data on the appointment of judges. In February 2018, a research study showed that only 28% of the judges in the lower judiciary are women (Ghosh et al 2018), providing state- and district-wise data on the composition of the lower judiciary. The Ministry of Law and Justice separately reported that the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) constitute 12% of the lower court judges across 11 states, whereas Dalits and SCs comprise less than 14% and tribals about 12% of the subordinate judiciary (Thakur 2018).

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Updated On : 27th Jan, 2020

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