The ratio of female judges has increased significantly: UU Lalit

India’s Chief Justice-designate, Uday Umesh Lalit, believes that the number of female judges has increased significantly over the 75 years of independence as more and more women find a judicial career acceptable.

Judge Lalit, addressing The Hindu Sunday, said that “the situation could change in the next 10 or 15 years. Today we complete 75 years of independence, maybe when we reach 100 the proportion of women in the judiciary would be completely different”.

Reacting to the question of whether the retirement age for judges should be increased from 65 to 67, Justice Lalit said: “We came here to the bench because our predecessors retired at 65. It is therefore an intergenerational equity… It is up to the legislators to decide”.

The designated CJI said that “virtual courts have opened up new frontiers and blurred geographical boundaries.”

Justice Lalit said the college chaired by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, of which he is a part, made 255 recommendations to high courts in 11 months.

Excerpts from the interview:

“Women find the legal career acceptable”

Do you think the retirement age for Supreme Court justices should be raised from 65 to 67?

We came here on the bench because our predecessors retired at the age of 65. So it’s intergenerational equity. If we stay here, maybe the next generation of judges won’t get to the bench any faster… That’s a policy issue for legislators to decide.

Do you think the Court needs more female judges?

Yes of course. The ethos changes. Recently I went to an event to induct new judges in Rajasthan. Of about 190 of them, 129 were women. Again, in Odisha, at a similar event, 65% of new judges were women. The percentage of women judicial officers is increasing. Women find the judicial career acceptable. Today, if we think of the first 100 judges of the high courts, no more than 10 are women. The image may change in 10-15 years. Hopefully today we finish 75, maybe when we finish 100 the ratio (of female judges) will be different.

The Supreme Court recently ruled on the “indiscriminate” use of powers of arrest by law enforcement. Is it necessary to review the criminal justice system?

Once a court reviews it, we shouldn’t comment. Theoretically, if you want to relax certain conditions or say that people in certain situations should not be arrested, it is normal for the legislator to do so. For example, under Section 437 (of the CrPC), women, children, the infirm or the aged are considered a special category where your logic or normal conditions should be relaxed and the balance should tip in favor of these people. It’s not as if Parliament didn’t notice it. Parliament is aware of this, aware of this.

On social networks or electronic media criticizing the conduct of judges?

Everything can be discussed on the floor of the House, except the conduct of the judge. Except when the impeachment motion is considered in Parliament. There are two compartments — the “judgment compartment” and the “judge compartment”. Any criticism of the validity or accuracy of a judgment is welcome. It strengthens the institution, the judicial process and the administration of justice. Criticism of a judge’s conduct does not strengthen the institution, is not good for society. Anyone who criticizes a judgment must maintain a line and not overstep. A judge cannot answer. He or she is suffocating under the deluge of criticism.

Should the death penalty be removed from the law?

Constitutionally, the death penalty is permitted, provided the parameters set out in Bachan Singh are met. The effort of each court is to see whether or not each case falls within the exceptions. As a judge, I cannot say that the death penalty should not be imposed. I will see whether or not the facts justify the imposition of the death penalty.

On the virtual court system?

Virtual courts open up new frontiers. Borders have blurred. Madras High Court lawyers can appear before the Supreme Court on any day. It opens new perspectives. It’s a welcome idea.

On the work of the college to fill the judicial vacancies?

The Collegium chaired by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, of which myself and Justice AM Khanwilkar were members, has made 255 recommendations to the High Courts in the last 11 months. This represents a third of the total staff of the High Courts. If the responses are quick and immediate and if there is merit and talent, there would be no delay.

Sallie R. Loera