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The Delhi High Court has issued notice in plea seeking formulation of guidelines to ensure the safety of women lawyers in all courts, tribunals and chamber blocks in Delhi.
The plea also seeks implementation of the essential provisions of the Sexual Harassment at the Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 at all courts in the capital.
Notice was issued by a Division Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Anup J Bhambhani to the Central Government, the Bar Council of India, and the Delhi Bar Council.
The Delhi High Court Bar Association, Tis Hazari Bar Association, Saket Bar Association, Dwarka Bar Association, Rohini Bar Association, Karkardooma Bar Association and Patiala House Bar Association have also been issued notice in the plea.
The petition has been preferred by NGO Art of Learning Foundation, “in the wake of the continuing incidents of sexual harassment against women, taking place in the court and/or chamber block premises.”
Apprising the Court of the state of affairs, the petition reads,
“In India, women, especially those who do not adhere to conventional norms are at a higher risk of sexual harassment in the form of sexual gossip and comments by male lawyers in the courts. The court corridors become a hub where almost every woman lawyer is observed and discussed by male lawyers, as to their dress, mannerisms, relationships…
…Complaining against a senior lawyer or a judge or even a not so powerful male colleague, has huge repercussions on the woman’s future legal career because of the sexist and bigoted leanings of the legal fraternity.”
None of the Bar Associations in Delhi have implemented any safety guidelines or taken any steps in furtherance of the Sexual Harassment at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013, it is further stated.
The widespread prevalence of consuming alcohol in the court’s premises after 5 pm and unmonitored movement of the lawyers in the chamber premises, adds to the lack of a safe environment for women in the courts, the petitioner submits.
It is also contended that the ambit of ‘workplace’ in the present case is so broad and unregulated that making a complaint would “make the woman conspicuous in the entire legal community”.
Praying for suitable definitions of ‘workplace’, ’employers’ and ’employees’ in terms of the Sexual Harassment Act, the petition states,
“For the multitude of women lawyers, the ‘workplace’ is often the Courts and the Lawyers’ Chambers’ Complex. However, lawyers practicing in the Courts are not ‘employees’ within the judicial set up comprising of the Judges and the Court administrative machinery thus lending an unregulated and unsupervised domain….The question arises to which authority or regulator is responsible for ensuring provision of a safe environment to the multitude of women lawyers?”
The petitioner, therefore, seeks a mechanism to ensure the safety and security of women under such conditions. The organisation of regular workshops on sexual harassment laws and gender sensitization, as well as the establishment of an Internal Complaints Committee is also sought for.
The petition has been filed through Advocate Kaadambari Puri.
The matter will be heard next on August 30, 2019.