President Ram Nath Kovind on Saturday expressed concern over the “unacceptably low” representation of women, OBCs, SC/STs in the higher judiciary and called for steps to remedy the situation. “There is unacceptably low representation of traditionally weaker sections such as OBCs, SCs and STs especially in the higher judiciary,” President Kovind said, adding that one in four judges is a woman. Asking the judiciary to walk in pace with other public institutions in being truly representatives of society’s diversity, ous in being representative of the diversity of our country, and the depth and breadth of our society. “Of the 17,000 judges in our subordinate courts, High Courts and the Supreme Court, only about 4,700 – roughly one in four – are women,” he said. Telling the higher judiciary that it was its “sacred duty” to “groom” district and sessions judges and raise their skill so that more and more of them can be elevated to High Courts, President Kovind said “We need to take long-term measures to remedy this situation.” “This will also enhance trust in our lower courts and their judgments and serve to declog our High Courts,” the President said. However, in a caveat, he made it clear that the long-term solutions would be “without in any manner compromising on quality” of the judges and the judicial system.
The President was speaking at the inaugural function of the two-day meet organised jointly by the Law Commission of India and NITI Aayog on the National Law Day. Speaking on the occasion, Chief Justice Dipak Misra defended the court taking a pro-active position on the fundamental rights of citizens and expanding their scope, saying that the “Protections of the fundamental rights of every citizen was a sacrosanct duty of the judiciary conferred by the Constitution”. Referring to the top court framing Vishaka guidelines’ for the protection of women at the work place and rescuing children working in industry, Chief Justice Misra said, “What you see today may be relevant tomorrow.” “These are only protection of fundamental rights. We don’t make policy. We interpret policy. That is our job,” the CJI said brushing aside concerns raised over judicial activism or judicial over-reach by Minister of State for Law and Justice P.P. Choudhary.
Choudhary in his welcome address said, “It is a fundamental principle of governance that decisions should, as far as possible, be predictable and not disruptive. When judicial activism and review wades into policymaking, sometimes its consequences can be disruptive. This needs to be avoided if possible.” Pointing out that there was a direct co-relation between Directive Principles of State Policy and the fundamental rights, Chief Justice Misra called for a quality governance and said, “Cooperative constitutionalism is the responsibility of the three organs of the State to protect the Constitution which is the source of their origin.” Calling for judicial accountability, the Minister of State for Law and Justice said, “If judicial independence is a pillar of our democracy, then judicial accountability is the base of that pillar. Without accountability there can be no legitimacy.”
Citing B.R. Ambedkar on maintaining “delicate balance” between three organs of the State, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan favoured a re-look at the collegium system of appointing judges to the higher judiciary. Mahajan said that the collegium system that is in working for over two decades needs to be reviewed if there was any shortcoming in its functioning or there was a need for transparency in its working. Seeking to stay free of any controversy, Mahajan said that all the institutions are manned by humans and to err is human.