Justice Indu Malhotra
Justice Indu Malhotra

Appointment to public offices, like that of a Judge, not just about representation; it should be based on merit: Justice Indu Malhotra

Justice Indu Malhotra was speaking at an interactive webinar organized by Nishith Desai Associates on 'Women Leaders in Dispute Resolution: Perspectives of a Judge, Lawyer, Arbitrator and In-House Counsel'.

Aditi Singh

Appointment to public offices, like that of a Judge, is not just about the representation of certain classes of persons like women or transgenders etc, said Justice Indu Malhotra, Judge of the Supreme Court of India.

When it concerns the performance of a public function, the appointment should be based on merit, Justice Malhotra said.

Justice Indu Malhotra was speaking at an interactive webinar organized by Nishith Desai Associates on 'Women Leaders in Dispute Resolution: Perspectives of a Judge, Lawyer, Arbitrator and In-House Counsel'.

The session, which was held on Saturday, was in association with CIArb India Young Members Group.

Apart from Justice Malhotra, the other panelists were Indira Jaising, Senior Advocate; Sapna Jhangiani QC, Partner Clyde & Co, Singapore; Priya Mehra, General Counsel, Interglobe Aviation Ltd and Gowree Gokhale of Nishith Desai Associates.

Nishith M Desai kickstarted the session by welcoming all panelists and participants. Asserting that Nishith Desai Associates recognized gender diversity and gender inclusion, he informed that 47% of the firm's leadership comprised women.

Nishith Desai Webinar
Nishith Desai Webinar

During the session, in response to a question concerning prioritizing the promotion of women, Senior Advocate Jaising asserted that she firmly believed in affirmative action in favour of women.

Senior Advocate Jaising pointed out how for many years the Supreme Court did not have a single woman judge on the Bench and would now have only two female Judges with the retirement of Justice R Banumathi.

Advocating in favour of the diversification of Bench, Senior Advocate Jaising remarked that women, transgender, people from the LGBTQ community should be represented.

Taking the discussion forward, Justice Malhotra opined that mere "representation" could not form the basis of one's appointment.

She explained that being a judge entailed undertaking complex judicial function and merit could not be overlooked.

It was not my suggestion that non-meritorious people should be elevated. The issue is of conscious denial of opportunity, Senior Advocate Jaising responded.

Nishith Desai Webinar
Nishith Desai Webinar

Justice Malhotra spoke at length on providing institutional support to women practitioners and the importance of family support.

On the issue of giving an impetus to young female practitioners, Justice Malhotra said that there was a need to give state-of-the-art conference facilities to both male and female lawyers.

She added that senior members of the Bar should mentor new members and transportation facilities should be given to female lawyers in evening hours, especially in Delhi.

She also informed that the Supreme Court has a Gender Sensitisation Committee to hear complaints from female lawyers.

During the session, Senior Advocate Jaising shared her opinion on the lack of transparency in the judicial institution on the issue of sexual harassment and the victimization of the women.

You need to call out the person who harassed you, in whatever manner possible, Senior Advocate Jaising said as she shared her own experience of being sexually harassed in the Supreme Court corridors.

Sapna Jhangiani QC shared her experience as an international practitioner and spoke on the importance of having a support system and being persistent.

It is important to focus on best that you can do with what you have, Jhangiani QC said as she remarked that one should "embrace" not being perfect.

Priya Mehra shared her views on the reasons behind the low representation of women in leadership roles.

If we can make work environment conducive from the very start, things work and ultimately one's merit helps one reach the level of leadership, she said.

Mehra said that organizations and law firms were now making efforts to push women ahead. She stressed on the need for women to "internalize" that they are equal.

Gowree Gokhle said that passion for law balances out everything and one should not have a short-term view when it comes to evaluating the impact of personal choices on a woman's career.

In response to a question on "brutal working hours" at law firms, Gokhale said that one need not look at it from the perspective of working hours and non-working hours. The work is yours and the client is your priority, she said.

The session was moderated by Nishith Desai Associates' Kshama A Loya, Shweta Sahu and Bhavana Sunder.

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