Leila Seth, first woman chief justice speaks of gender bias

New Delhi :  Leila Seth (in pic), the first woman chief justice of a high court, says she was a victim of gender bias during initial years of her service but put her foot down and learnt how to become an umpire from being a player.

Seth (84) started her practice in the Patna High Court and then was appointed as junior standing counsel for income tax. She spent 10 years in Patna before moving to Calcutta. Finally, she decided to settle in Delhi, where both the Delhi HC and the Supreme Court are located.

“After practicing in Delhi for five years in most aspects of law, including constitutional and tax matters, I was designated as a senior advocate by the Supreme Court in January 1977 and was later appointed as a judge of the Delhi High Court on July 25, 1978,” she says. “The convention was that the new judge, after being sworn in, would sit in court with the Chief Justice to benefit from his experience. But the Chief Justice, with his conservative ideas, was apprehensive about sitting with a woman, as it meant not only being together in open court, but also being alone in closed chambers thereafter for discussion and decision.

“I am told he said, ‘… I can’t do it.’ So I sat with a senior judge, suave, Westernised and with impeccable manners. He was relaxed and subtly taught me how to change from being a player to being an umpire,” she wrote in an article.

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