BREAKING CONVENTIONAL YARDSTICKS

With the conclusion of the 3-day State-level intensive Mediation Workshop in Srinagar today the proceedings of the workshop are going to prove a boon for those administering justice as multiple discrepancies and shortcomings coming in the way of popularizing the alternative dispute resolution especially the mediation came to fore during the discussions and lectures conducted for three days. While the focus during the workshop was on mediation, at the same time a very important issue regarding women in judiciary and practice came up for extensive discussion during roundtable discussion organized by the Indian Feminist Judgments Project on “Feminism in Practice: Feminist Lawyering and Feminist Judging.” The point emphasized upon during the deliberations was that inability to get more women judges on the Bench can change only if the conventional yardsticks for assessing women lawyers are broken. This was asserted by the Supreme Court judge, Justice DY Chandrachud the other day. Chief Justice of J&K Geeta Mittal confessed that she being a newly sworn-in Chief Justice of Jammu and Kashmir, is still in the process of grasping the difficulties that women in the State encounter. She acknowledged that not only junior lawyers were finding it difficult to join the profession; it was even harder for women lawyers to take up this profession due to societal flaws which are mostly attitudinal.It is a fact that the yardsticks used to assess women lawyers are not gender neutral and that is one of the reasons for the lack of woman judges in higher judiciary. As such responding to the call of the present time and scenario there is a dire need for the change in these conventional yardsticks used to assess candidates for the purpose of elevation to the Bench and in this regard Justice Chandrachud has rightly pointed that the problem lies with the way the performance of a lawyer is assessed at the Bar. It came to be revealed at the conference that during Justice Chandrachud’s tenure as the Chief Justice of the Allahabad High Court when the name of a woman lawyer was being considered for proposal to elevate her to the Bench, the name had to be removed from the list of candidates on the ground that her income did not match the yardsticks prescribed. One fails to understand as to what purpose does the income serve in the direction of elevation to the Judicial post. It was really unfortunate that despite her being articulate and good at her work, the woman lawyer’s name was subsequently removed given that she largely fought labour law cases and the people she fought for, were very poor. The suggestions made by Justice Chandrachud need to be taken quite seriously and the systemic changes be made accordingly. This would be possible by bringing greater sense of inclusivity in the Judiciary by changing the yardsticks as it won’t work by merely changing the Collegium system or any other system. In nutshell, the conventional yardsticks will have to be broken in the larger interest of women as well as the society at large.