Indira Jaising becomes the first woman Additional-Solicitor General

October 2009

Noted Supreme Court lawyer and human rights scholar and activist, Indira Jaising earned the distinction of being the first woman Additional Solicitor General of India. On her appointment she writes:

 “…Being the first woman to be appointed additional solicitor general in the Supreme Court, I feel a special duty to explain my own reasons for accepting the post. To begin with, the posts have been a male bastion and there is no doubt that this appointment crosses that barrier and the post will now cease to be considered as reserved for men alone. It is in this context I am sure the appointment will send an electrifying signal to women lawyers all over the country, to aspire to the highest law offices.”

The writing has been on the wall since then, inviting governments all over the world to do the same. India has responded to the idea a good 10 years later and not yet at the level of the attorney general. My appointment nevertheless sends a very powerful message that there is a place in the profession for women, and hence it will unleash their energy and imagination.

The practice of law in courts is also considered a male preserve and many women prefer to be in corporate law firms rather than enter the courts and face the aggression of male colleagues. Many drop out from a disorganised bar, which has no system of taking in juniors, male or female. Others drop out, as they are required to take on domestic duties and have no way of managing the work at home with the work in courts. The small member of practising women lawyers is testimony to the discrimination that women face.

It bears repetition that there is no woman judge at the Supreme Court, once again pointing to the systemic problem of exclusion of women from the highest positions in the profession.

My appointment is also significant as I come with a track record of having worked for the protection of human rights and for judicial accountability. I wondered, how would I fit into a system which is meant to advise the establishment? It is my own belief that the office of the attorney general and the other law officers such as me, are held in the public interest and are not meant to be an extension of the executive arm of the government. This means that the office ought to provide us with ample opportunities to serve the public.

It is our task to advise the government on what the law IS, not what they want it be. We are called "officers of the court" and not officers of the government. This carries the concomitant duty to advise the government in an objective manner. Unlike a private litigant, the government is not expected to litigate for frivolous reasons, ignoring the unequal relationship between the litigant and the state.

The post provides an opportunity to advance the social justice agenda of the State, to defend the agenda against vested interests and to ensure that constitutional values are ever present in all decisions taken on behalf of the government.

It also provides an opportunity to participate in policy making on judicial reform and judicial administration…. Today, judicial reform is a political issue, an issue on which people will vote or not vote for governments. Any government that can demonstrate it is serious about ending delays in court, in making litigation affordable to people through a functioning system of legal aid, and can inspire confidence in judges, will surely get the popular vote. This is because litigation has become part and parcel of the daily life of people.

I look forward to participating in these debates, which cannot be avoided anymore.

What kind of judges do we want, what kind of lawyers do we want, are now questions the nation is debating and these are no longer questions that can be debated alone in the court-rooms with judges. We are in for some exciting times, as judicial reforms are an idea whose time has come.

Indira Jaising

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