In a rare move, the Supreme Court yesterday designated four lawyers as Senior Advocates including three women lawyers and one male lawyer, Sushil Jain. The three women lawyers are Vibha Dutta Makhija, Meenakshi Arora and Kiran Suri. The decision was taken at a Full Court meeting presided by the Chief Justice of India, P. Sathasivam.
Vibha Dutta Makhija, who has close to twenty years of experience in the legal profession, enrolled with the Bar in 1993. She is a graduate of Campus Law Centre, Delhi University and did her LL.M from Georgetown University, Washington. She became an Advocate-on-Record in the year 2000 and was also the Standing Counsel for Madhya Pradesh.
Meenakshi Arora, who enrolled with the Bar in 1984, is a graduate of MS University, Baroda and has been practicing in the Supreme Court since 1986. She is the Standing Counsel for the Election Commission. Speaking to Bar & Bench, Meenakshi said, “Justice has been done. I guess the first round was breaking the ceiling when it came to Advocates-on-Record. Now, it is time for more women lawyers to be designated as Senior Advocates.”
“It is time to prove that we are no less than any of our male colleagues and if not better we are at par”, adds Meenakshi.
The third woman lawyer to be designated Senior Advocate is Kiran Suri. She enrolled with the Bar in 1978 and is a graduate of Faculty of Law, Delhi University. She has appeared in several mining matters before the Supreme Court. Kiran told Bar & Bench that she was obviously happy at being conferred this status.
Meenakshi Arora and Vibha Dutta were members of the committee that framed the Gender Sensitisation & Sexual Harassment of Women at the Supreme Court of India (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Regulations, 2013 (Regulations). The Supreme Court approved these Regulations in July this year.
Senior Advocate and Additional Solicitor General of India, Indira Jaising told Bar & Bench that, “It is a great move. The Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam has shown the right thing to do because traditionally women are discriminated against, so it is very necessary to pay attention to their legitimate requirements.”
“All three of them have been at the Bar for a pretty long time and it is a well-deserved designation. It will send the right signal to the women [and] encourage women to remain at the Bar and to excel at their work”, she added.
The near absence of women in the most recent list of Senior Advocates designated by the Supreme Court (only 5 out of a total of 309) has often been used to support claims for greater equality in the legal profession. In an interview in October last year, Senior Advocate Rajani Iyer admitted that there could be an “inbuilt resistance” against women lawyers. With this move, the number of women Senior Advocates conferred this status by the Supreme Court will swell to eight. This may not be a large number in itself but is certainly a step in the right direction. As Kiran Suri notes, “Finally, something good has happened.”