The Supreme Court Monday sought response from the Bar Council of India (BCI) on a plea seeking measures for women lawyers such as safety in courts, maternity benefits and the old age pension.
A bench, comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justices Deepak Gupta and Aniruddha Bose, issued notice to the BCI and its chairperson Manan Kumar Mishra on the PIL which listed out incidents of sexual harassment against women lawyers in different court premises including the Delhi High Court and the trial courts.
The plea, filed by advocate Indu Kaul, sought formulation of social security measures by the apex bar body in coordination with state bar councils to ensure that women lawyers are strengthened.
Safety of women lawyers in court premises and at chamber blocks should be “paramount” or else incidents like these could be “discouraging” for new female entrants in the legal profession, it said.
“The chamber blocks in the court premises have no police person deployed. Male and female rest rooms which have common wall are often found poorly lit which again makes it vulnerable for lady advocates when they use the facility,” it said.
“Gender disparity cannot be overlooked in the legal profession where any successful lady advocated is attributed motives for her success which can be as hurting as her character assassination. Safety and security ought to be made the first priority. Lady advocates will withhold themselves from contesting elections of bar associations and bar councils as her male colleagues envy her success from the very first day,” it said.
Women lawyers who get married have to stay away from courts periodically, “there is no social security measure introduced towards maternity benefits”, it said.
As per BCI Model Scheme, at the retirement age of 60 years, a lady lawyer’s position becomes pitiable as her practice diminishes due to poor health and her family still nourishes the impression that being an advocate she must be capable of earning her livelihood, it said.
“Through social security measures there must be a provision for pension when she opts out of active practice,” the petition said.
It also mentioned the death of Darvesh Yadav, the first woman chairperson of Uttar Pradesh Bar Council who was shot dead by a male colleague in the premises of Agra district court last month.
It said the BCI, instead of compensating Yadav’s family out of its own Advocate Welfare’ Fund, issued a press release demanding the compensation from the state government.
“Bar Councils from different states and BCI collect a huge amount of money on the sale of Advocates’ Welfare Stamp affixed mandatorily on every Vakalatnama irrespective of the fact that the case is criminal, jail petition, of women, old and indigent persons and/or PIL… BCI as a statutory body is bound to formulate social security measures for providing financial assistance which is a part of it as a body corporate to bear the corporate social responsibility,” the petition submitted.